Coming Together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20th December

 

“Why is it, whenever the three of us get together for lunch, we always end up here?”

 

I bit into my burger and chewed it as I looked over at Colin and Martin.  We had come into town to take care of some last minute Christmas shopping, as our schools had closed at lunchtime for the Christmas holidays.

 

“Because it’s cheap, and I like it,” I said after I had swallowed the beef and bun, “and I don’t normally hear either of you complaining.”

 

“We’re not complaining as such,” Martin said with a grin, “but a little variety does the world of good, right?”

 

“No comment,” Colin said as he picked up his last chicken nugget.  “So what did you get Alicia?”

 

“I bought her a new recording of Handel’s Messiah,” Martin said as he looked at us, especially the grin that spread across my face.  “What?  What’s wrong with that?”

 

“Nothing – I just still find it funny that my favourite cousin is that much into classical music,” I said as I sat back.  “I got Cassie a copy of Entangled on DVD.  What about you Colin?”

 

“Jenny dropped enough hints – a new copy of The Hunger Games is in her stocking.”

 

I was about to say something, when I heard my phone beeping.  Taking out my phone, I looked at the message for a moment, before saying “Strange.”

 

“What is?”

 

“Dad wants to see us – all of us.”

 

“All three of us?”  Martin wiped his cheek before asking the obvious question.

 

“When and where?”

 

“Now, at the manor house,” I said as I glanced out of the window, and saw Mister Bridges waiting by the car.  “Wonder what he wants?”

 

 

 

 

“Ah Robert – there you are.  And Colin and Martin came as well – excellent.  Don’t worry, we’ll give both of them a lift back to town later – but you may wish to call your parents to say where you are.”

 

As Colin and Martin took out their mobile phones and dialled their parents, I sat in the armchair in the library at Holderness Manor – one of my favourite places, and one of my favourite chairs.  Grandfather was sitting in a chair opposite, dressed in a suit and open necked shirt, while Dad stood in front of the fire, his hands behind his back as he smiled at me.  He was in his business suit, but there was a twinkle in his eye.

 

“Why did you want to see all three of us,” I said as I looked at them.

 

“Two things really,” Dad said.  “First, you need to know that Sarah and Brian will be arriving on the 2nd of January, in order that the bans for their wedding can be read, and the wedding will take place here on Saturday 24th January.  You can expect a number of guests from the US to attend, and they will be staying with us at Wissenden Hall.”

 

I had heard about the upcoming wedding, counting my blessings I had no part to play in the ceremony itself.  Jenny, Alicia and Angela were to be bridesmaids, while Suzie and Cassie were to be flower girls.

 

“Before that, however,” Grandfather said as he leaned back, and I was joined by Colin and Martin, “we have the small matter of two birthdays.” 

 

I nodded at that – with Cassie having her birthday on the 28th, and Suzie on the 31st, last year had been a whirlwind of parties and surprises.  This year they were both twelve, but it had been one hell of a year.

 

“I thought they had decided just to have family celebrations this year,” I said quietly.  I’d been invited to dinner at Cassie’s on her birthday, and she was coming to the hall for Suzie’s birthday tea, but that was about it.

 

“Quite right,” Dad said, “but given the year everyone has had, your grandfather and I feel this cannot pass without some form of celebration – and besides, we feel we really need to christen Wissenden Hall with a proper formal party.”

 

“Sounds fun, a formal party,” I said quietly, looking at the other two, “but why are you telling us and not them.”

 

Grandfather smiled and said “your grandmother and I, together with John and Miranda Craig, have planned the event already, and many preparations are in place, but there is the small question of invitations to Suzanne, Cassandra and their friends.  Especially as this must be a surprise to all of them.”

 

“Difficult – even without thinking of Patty,” Colin said with a smile.

 

“I agree,” Dad said, “which is why they won’t know that the party will be on the 30th of December.”

 

“So how will they know they are invited.

 

“I am glad you asked that question,” Grandfather said as he looked at Dad, “because we have a little job we want the three of you to do.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“We want the three of you,” Dad said with a smile – an evil one – “on the 29th and 30th December, to kidnap the girls.”

 

“What, Cassie and Suzie?”

 

“No,” Grandfather said, “All of them.  Alicia, Jenny, Patty – all twelve of them.”

 

We looked at each other, before I said quietly “Would you mind repeating that Grandfather?”

 

“We want you three to plan and execute the kidnapping of all twelve girls without their prior knowledge, or that of their parents, bring them to Wissenden Hall, and hold them as hostages until the evening of the 30th, when they will be ‘invited’ to dress and attend the ball.”

 

Colin had gone pale, as he said “Isn’t that going to land us in a sh....”

 

“Your grandmother and I will deal with their parents after the event, and ensure there are no repercussions for you,” Grandfather said with a smile, “but this is what we want to happen.  Do you accept the challenge?”

 

We looked at each other, before Martin said “Can we have any help Lord Holderness?  With transport I mean.”

 

“That I will allow,” Dad said with a smile.  “Mister Bridges will drive one of the Red Ribbon shipping vans to allow you to transport the girls to Wissenden Hall, but apart from that, you will be entirely on your own.

 

“So, do you think you can do it?”

 

We looked at each other, before I said “Challenge accepted – but we may need to call in some help.”

 

“Don’t tell us,” Dad said as he waved his hand, “Least we know, the better.  And remember – not a word to the girls or the parents.”

 

“Can we go to the playroom for a while?”

 

“Of course – and good luck,” Grandfather said as we left the room, and went upstairs.

 

Oooof,” Colin said as he collapsed into a bean bag, “what the heck have we just agreed to?  Twelve kidnappings in two days – and nobody must know?”

 

“We’re going to need help,” Martin said, “No way we can do this with just the three of us.  More to the point, how do we stop your mum knowing?”

 

“No idea, yet,” I said quietly, “but we are going to need help.  Let’s think for a minute – can it be done?”

 

“It can be done if we get the planning right,” Colin said as he rubbed his forehead, “but we can’t do the kidnapping and guard them.  We need help for that.”

 

“Agreed,” I said quietly, “and I think I know who can help.  When does Brian arrive?”

 

“Sunday,” Colin said, and then he looked at me.  “Who else?”

 

“Tommy and his family are coming for Christmas, so I think we can count on him.  But we need some more adult supervision – and I know where to get it.”

 

 

 

 

22nd December

 

“That was a delicious lunch,” Aunt Anne said as she pushed her pudding bowl away.  “Thank you, Rebecca.”

 

“You’re welcome, Mrs Bowden,” Mrs Boyle said as she started to clear the plates.

 

“Please – it’s Anne when nobody else is here,” Aunt Anne said as she wiped young Andy’s chin.  “I know my mother-in-law insists on formality, but she’s not here today.”

 

“Amen to that,” Angela said with a smile.  We were all dressed casually, Angela wearing a denim dress over a black jumper and dark stockings.

 

“Angela,” I said as I pushed my chair back, “Can I ask a favour of you for a minute?”

 

“Oh,” Alicia said as she looked over, putting her napkin on the table, “What are you planning?”

 

“Christmas presents – so keep out of it,” I said as we went out to the playhouse, Angela slipping her shoes on as we went out.  When we entered the room, I stood where I could see if anyone came as Alicia sat in a bean bag.

 

“Christmas presents?  Spill it Robert Desmond Holderness – what is this about?”

 

“Actually,” I said as I glanced out of the window, “It’s about the party.”

 

“The one on Monday?  Mum and Dad told me about it, but they haven’t told Ali yet – and I get the feeling you know why.”

 

I nodded looked at her and said “Because it has to be a surprise to her – to all the girls.”

 

“What sort of surprise?”

 

So I told her.  When I had finished, she let out a low whistle before saying “Sometimes, I forget just how devious our grandfather can be.  And they know nothing?”

 

“Not a thing – all the planning has been done away from here, and Mister and Mrs Boyle are very good at keeping secrets.  What we need, however, is help with keeping the girls under wraps here as we bring them in – and that’s where I need your help.”

 

“Who else?”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“Who else have you got to keep guard?”

 

I stopped for a minute, glanced out of the window, and said “Well, Colin has Brian lined up, and I’ll talk to Tommy when they get here later today.  But we need parent figures.”

 

“Figures, plural,” Angela said as she took out her mobile phone.  “Eddie?  It’s Angie.  Is Mary with you?

 

“No?  Good – listen carefully and don’t react.  Can you keep Sunday and Monday free next week?

 

“Great – I’ll explain why when I see you tomorrow night.  Love you.”  She ended the call, and said “Right – this could be fun.  Have you planned everything out?”

 

“We have, but best you don’t know – especially for Alicia.  None of the parents know, and we’re not going to tell you either.”

 

“Apart from Aunt Susan and Uncle Alexander?”

 

“Yeah, Dad knows – but I don’t know if he’s told Mum.”  Looking out of the window, I saw Suzie walking out, my cousin Tommy behind her.

 

“I’ll see you on Wednesday for Christmas Dinner at the Hall,” I said as Angela stood up, “and then Sunday.”

 

Angela nodded, as I smiled.  So far, so good.

 

29th December

 

“You seem unusually cheerful this morning, O Brother of mine.”

 

It was eight in the morning, and I was eating my fourth slice of toast, having put away already a bowl of porridge.  I’d been up early, after spending the previous night in the playhouse with Colin and Martin, going over for the final time our plans for the next few days.

 

I was also full of nerves, and a little scared about what we were going to do, but I had faith – once we got started, we would be fine.

 

As Mrs Boyle cleared away the breakfast plates, Mum and Dad came in, Mum fastening her camel coat over her clothes.  “Your mum and I need to go into town for the day and pick up a few things,” Dad said as he looked at us, “So Mrs Boyle is in charge.  Do whatever she tells you, all right?”

 

“Got it Dad,” Suzie said as she buttered a slice of toast.  She was dressed to spend the day indoors, wearing an old white jumper with a dog on the front and a pair of blue jeans, the grey socks she was wearing covering the hems of the legs.

 

“Right – see you all later,” Mum said as they walked out of the kitchen, and I heard the front door shut.   “Now, are you two going to keep out of trouble,” Mrs Boyle said as she looked at us.

 

“I’m going to do some stuff on the computer,” Suzie said as she stood up, “Right after I have gone to the bathroom.”  She walked out of the room, sticking her tongue out at me as she did so, and went to the downstairs toilet.

 

That was my cue, as I made my excuses and followed her out.  There was a small table with a drawer by the toilet door, and from there I took out a pair of gloves and a balaclava.  The three of us were going to make this as realistic as possible, so I put the gloves on and slipped the mask over my head.

 

Now, I’m not that tall – about five seven, and Colin is about the same height.  Martin, despite being younger than both of us, is taller at five nine, so in masks we can pass as adults – just.

 

Anyway, I took a deep breath as I heard the toilet flush, and Suzie came out, not noticing me as she walked towards the library.  As she did so, she passed the door that leads down to the cellar, not hearing it open as I walked behind her and grabbed her from behind, putting the gloved hand over her mouth.

 

Whtthhlll,” she mumbled as I dragged her to the cellar, and half walked, half carried her down the stairs.  As we went in, she saw the man standing there in blue overalls, a black balaclava covering her head, and she started to struggle even more.

 

“Cool it Suzie, it’s us,” I whispered into her ear as I brought her into the cellar, Suzie’s eyes widening as she recognised my voice and saw Tommy standing there, a big grin on his face.

 

“Might have known you would be first,” he said as I took my hand from Suzie’s mouth, only to pull her wrists behind her back and start to bind them together.

 

“Robert Holderness, when I getmmmmm” she started to say, only to be cut off as Tommy pushed a folded hankie into her mouth, and then added a knotted strip of towelling as a cleave gag.

 

“Now you just relax,” I said as I tied her wrists to her back, and then tied the rope around her lower arms and stomach, “You are going to enjoy this.”

 

Njjwwht,” Suzie mumbled as I sat her down, and then used the white tape around her head, as the other masked man started to bind her legs together.

 

“Oh you’ll see,” he said, Suzie’s eyes widening even more as she mumbled “Cllnnn?”

 

“Yup,” Colin smiled as he looked up, and tied her legs together below her knees.  “Today is a day of rest, Suzanne Holderness, don’t you know that?”

 

“Oh good – I see you’ve started.”

 

Nttuswl,” Suzie said with a moan as she saw Angela coming into the cellar, wearing a grey sweatshirt and joggers.  Brian Hampton was with her, giggling as he said “Hi Suzie” while Eddie Holmes, Mary’s older brother, followed them in.

 

“We’re going to be guarding you,” Brian said as he came over and tickled Suzie’s sides, making her giggle, “Won’t that be fun, hmmm?”

 

“Talking of which,” Angela said as she picked up more rope, “you need to get going.”  She knelt behind Suzie and started to tie the rope around her shoulders and body, and then a second length under my sister’s chest, making her giggle as she pulled the ropes tight.

 

Whrugng?”

 

“You’ll see,” I said as Colin and I left the cellar, “You’ll see...”

 

As we walked away, we took off the balaclavas and rolled them up so they functioned as woolly hats, then collected our coats from the stand.  “We’ll be in and out for most of the day,” I said to Mister and Mrs Boyle, who smiled and nodded as we walked outside.

 

An old grey van was parked outside, with Mister Bridges sitting behind the wheel.  “Good morning boys,” he said as we got into the back, putting a couple of bags on the floor as we did so, “All ready for today?”  He was wearing a long black coat with a cloth cap, and a thick scarf was wrapped round his neck.

 

“I think so,” I said quietly, “we need to pick up Martin in town, and then we can begin.”

 

“Our first port of call?”

 

“The Craigs...”

 

 

It was about ten o’clock when Mister Bridges pulled up outside Cassie and Jenny’s house, and pulled the scarf up over his mouth.  Martin and I looked at each other, the hats on our heads, while Colin zipped up his coat.

 

“Ready?”

 

“Ready – give me five minutes, and then come in.”  He climbed out of the van, looked both ways, and then walked casually up to the front door, ringing it as he blew into his hands.

 

Martin and I watched through a dirty window as Jenny opened the door.  We could see the checked blouse she was wearing over a grey t-shirt as we listened.

 

“Oh hi Colin – I wasn’t expecting you.  I’m looking after the twins while Mum and Dad sort some stuff out in the garage.”

 

“Yeah, well, I was dropping some stuff off for Dad, so I thought I’d come round.  Can I come in?”

 

“All right – but close and lock the door behind you, all right?”

 

Jenny turned and walked in, Colin giving the thumbs up before he closed the door to.  We waited for a minute or two, before I said “Ready?”

 

Martin nodded as he put a roll of micropore tape and a pair of plastic handcuffs, which Colin had “borrowed” from his father, into the pocket of his leather jacket.  We then stepped out, walked casually up to the door, and then let ourselves in.

 

“I bet they really enjoyed their first Christmas,” we heard Colin say in the back of the house, as we slowly made our way up the stairs, trying not to make any noise.    As we did so, we rolled down the hats on our heads so that only our eyes and mouths were visible, and then we carefully listened to the doors.  I could hear Cassie singing along to something in her room, as we took up position either side of her door, as I took a large cloth out of my pocket.

 

“CASSIE!!  CAN YOU COME DOWN FOR A MINUTE!!

 

The sound of Jenny calling from the kitchen was our cue, as we held our breath and watched the door open, hiding Martin as Cassie came out.  She was wearing a pink and white smock top over a long sleeved blue top, and blue leggings with white ankle socks.

 

“All right, all right, wahmmmmmmNNNNNNNN!”  Her muffled scream was the result of my right hand pushing the cloth into her mouth as I grabbed her and pulled her back with my left arm around her waist.  As I did this, Martin walked round, and stuck a length of micropore tape directly over Cassie’s eyes.

 

“HLLPPPP!!!  JNNENWNWEHLPMMMMM” she screamed into my hand as the cloth muffled her cries, and I pulled her back into the room, Martin closing the door behind us.  I took my hand away at that point, holding her arms as Martin covered he mouth with several strips of the tape.  She was shaking her head from side to side, but he managed to cover her lips and the cloth.

 

“Calm down, Cassie,” I whispered into her ear, “It’s me and Martin.  Now behave, and do whatever we tell you – this is a kidnapping.”

 

Bbbe?  Ehtruddng,” she said as Martin handed me the plastic handcuffs, and I secured her wrists together behind her back, before sitting her down.  I found her black Ugg boots, and as I slipped them onto her feet Martin took a pair of 3D glasses we had used in the cinema from his pocket.  We had painted over the lenses with black acrylic paint, so that they reinforced the blindfold as he slipped them over Cassie’s taped eyes.

 

Whtddufnkurdng,” she then said, calmer but still struggling as I took her black duffle coat from the back of the door, and fastened it over her upper body, hiding her arms as I did so.  “Stay with her and come when I signal,” I said to Martin as I rolled up my hat, and then held her as he did the same.  The two of us went to the top of the stairs, and Martin waited with Cassie until I slowly made my way down.

 

“Colin Hampton, one of these days you’re going to say something you’ll regret,” I heard Jenny say, and I glanced round the stairs.  Jenny was still sitting with her back to the door, so I motioned for Martin to bring Cassie down the stairs, making sure she did not slip, as I opened the front door quietly.

 

The three of us walked out, looking nervously from side to side as Mister Bridges opened the side of the van.  “Step up,” I said to Cassie as I helped her in, and then we both climbed in, Mister Bridges closing the door behind us.

 

Whrhwgng,” Cassie mumbled, “ndwhttbbtmmnddd?”

 

“All in hand,” I said as I took her coat off her, and cut away the plastic handcuffs, only to replace them with rope around her crossed wrists as Martin started to bind her ankles together.  “Now, hold still, and say nothing – we need to take you to our lair.”

 

Cassie relaxed as I tied her arms at her waist and tummy, and Martin secured her legs below her knees.  There was a knock on the side of the door, and we let Colin in.

 

“Jenny’s just gone upstairs to see where Cassie went to,” he said with a grin.

 

Clnswwwwll,” Cassie said with a groan as she was sat against the wall of the van.  “That’s right,” I said as I tied a folded white scarf firmly over her taped mouth, “Now are you going to be a good girl?”

 

Cassie slowly nodded as the van moved off, and we moved on to our next target.

 

 

 

 

From the front of the van, I watched as the VW beetle drew up outside the house, and Jessica Pickering got out, brushing down her long brown coat as she did so.

 

Pulling her seat forward, she allowed Patty and Rachel to get out.  Patty was wearing a pair of black denim pants under her black puffed jacket, and flat shoes, while Rachel was wearing a padded jerkin over a hooded pink sweatshirt, blue jeans and short black boots.

 

We watched as they carried the shopping bags in, and then I knocked on the back of the van.  “Get ready,” I said as I let myself out of the van, and then walked up to the front door.

 

I stood there, stamping my feet and blowing into my hands, until the door opened and Patty looked at me, her blue eyes behind her glasses and her hair in pigtails.

 

“Good morning, Your Lordship,” she said with a grin as she did a mock curtsey, “What can I do for you today?”

 

“Hey Patty,” I said with a smile, “Can I come in?  Cassie asked me to come round and pick something up from her Aunt Jessie for her.”

 

“Is that Robert?”  I saw Patty’s mother look out from the kitchen, and say “Come in, come in – do you want a drink of something?”

 

“Thanks,” I said as I came in, and Rachel came down the stairs.   “Here – I’ll close the door,” I said as I pushed the lock in and locked it in the open position, and then closed the door.

 

“Hi Bobby,” she said as she went into the front room, and I walked into the kitchen.

 

“Patricia, will you come and give me a hand as well?  Get these things put away, and then you and Rachel are free to enjoy the rest of today without me nagging at you.”

 

“All right, Mum,” Patty said with a sigh as she walked into the kitchen with me, and I closed the door.  “Just to keep the heat in,” I said as Patty started to put the shopping away.

 

“Now, what is it Cassie asked you to bring round to her,” Mrs Pickering said as she looked at me.

 

“She said you had some cake decorations that she could use for her present for Suzie?”

 

“Oh yeah – that’s right.  Give me a few minutes and I will find them,” she said as she looked in a drawer.  I started to help Patty to put the tins away, when I heard Mrs Pickering’s phone go off.

 

“Ah,” she said as she looked at the message, and then walked to the kitchen door.  “Rachel – your mum’s waiting outside to take you for a shoe fitting.  Hurry up and join her – we’ll see you later.”

 

She closed the door again, and then I heard the front door open and close.  “What shoe fitting?  I thought Rachel was here until Hogmanay,” Patty said as she looked at her mother.

 

“Kerry said it had to be done at the last minute – something about finding holes in her school shoes.  No Patty – crisps in the other cupboard.  Ah, here they are.”

 

She took out a packet and handed it to me.  “Thanks Mrs Pickering,” I said as I stood up, “I’ll get these round to her now.  Behave yourself Patty – see you another time.”

 

Patty waved her hand behind her as I left the house, making sure the door was properly locked behind me, and then walked up to the van.   Knocking on the side, I got in and closed the door behind me.

 

Rachel was sat next to Cassie, tied as thoroughly as she was with a pair of dark glasses over her eyes.   “Any problems,” I said as I looked at Colin and Martin.

 

“Not a one – until Mrs Pickering said her mum was coming.  I hope they don’t cause any trouble.”

 

“Grandfather said he would take care of everything,” I said as Rachel wriggled round and tired to call for help, Cassie joining in.  Three down – nine to go.

 

“We need to collect one more person before we head to the hideout,” Martin said as he looked at me.  “I think she’s at home today, helping her mum with the housework.”

 

I nodded, and then said “Uncle Simon’s house.”  Mister Bridges nodded as he drove off to our next victim.

 

 

 

 

“So we’re clear on what the plan is,” I said as we looked at Alicia’s front door.

 

“Yup,” Martin said as he finished wrapping the micropore tape around Rachel’s head.  We had felt the need to reinforce the gags of both our guests – especially given the fact Cassie had almost forced the stuffing out as we drove along.

 

“Good – let’s do it,” I said as Martin got out of the van and walked up to the front door.  He stood there as I saw Aunt Anne open the door, wearing a pair of old torn jeans and a long checked blouse.  She also had a red bandana tried over her hair.

 

“Hi Mrs Bowden,” we heard him say, “Is Alicia around?”

 

“She’s just giving me a hand with the furniture,” I heard Aunt Anne say, “If you can come in and help for a few minutes, she’ll be finished after that.”  Martin nodded as he walked in, and Colin and I put the woollen caps over our heads.

 

“We’ll go in through the garage and wait for our opportunity,” I whispered as we got out of the van, and walked up the driveway, slipping into the open garage and waiting by the car.

 

“So what’s that opportunity going to be again,” Colin said as I slowly opened the door to the kitchen from the garage.  The car was gone, which meant Uncle Simon was out.

 

“If Aunt Anne goes to form, she’ll suggest a coffee break now that Martin is here, and she’ll ask Alicia to make the drink.  That’s our window,” I said as we sneaked in, and took up position by the door to the hallway, pulling down our balaclavas as we did so.

 

 

I had to calm down my breathing as I listened at the door, and heard Aunt Anne say “Thank you Martin – Alicia, would you make some coffee please?”

 

“All right, Mum,” Alicia said, and I heard footsteps – and then the phone rang.

 

“Hello?

 

“Oh hi Jenny, what’s up?

 

“Cassie?  No I haven’t seen her – chances are she’s decided to go and visit the hellions.  Have you called your Aunt Jessie yet?

 

“All right then – I’m sure that’s what happened.  Call me back if you still can’t find her.  ‘Bye.”

 

I heard the phone being replaced, and then heard Alicia say “Have I got this to look forward to” as the door swung open.  She was wearing a pair of denim shorts over some black track suit bottoms, trainers, a black long sleeved top and a black scarf tied over her hair – so when I reached round and grabbed her, I made sure to hold her extra tight as Colin stood in front of her, the balaclava over his head.

 

“MUUUUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!” Alicia screamed out as Colin pushed a folded scarf into her mouth, and then pressed a long strip of the micropore tape over first her lips, and then her eyes.  “WHTTHFFFKRUDNGHHLPPPPPP!” she called out as I pulled her arms behind her back, and secured them with a pair of plastic handcuffs, Colin holding her arms as she struggled to get free.

 

“Hey there,” he said as Alicia twisted her head around, “Surprise.”

 

Alicia stopped for a moment, and then said “CLNNNN?  WHLLSSSS?”

 

“Just stay calm and don’t struggle,” he said as he placed a pair of the glasses over her eyes, and then we both rolled up the masks.  I slipped out of the door to the garage, checked the coast was clear, and then we frog marched Alicia quickly down the driveway and into the open van, Mister Bridges closing the door behind us.

 

Whrruplgntclnnhmnd,” Alicia growled as I bound her wrists properly with rope, and then tied her arms to her side.

 

Lssssh?  Sththttu?”

 

Alicia stopped struggling for a moment and said “Csseee?  Hllsss?”

 

Hhh,” Rachel said as she looked in our direction, before the van opened and Martin got in.

 

“Sorry about this, Alicia,” he said as she started struggling again while he bound her ankles and legs, “but this is a kidnapping.  If I was you, I’d sit back and enjoy the ride.”

 

And with that, Mister Bridges set off, our three captives struggling in the back.

 

 

 

 

The van came to a stop outside the main entrance, Mister Bridges going out to check the coast was clear before he said “All clear – bring them in.”

 

He opened the side of the van as I got out, Cassie lying over my shoulder as I held her legs down.  Colin followed with Rachel, and Martin with Alicia, as we went into the hallway, across to the door and down into the cellar.

 

Whrtthhlllrw,” I heard Alicia say, followed by a yelp as Martin gently smacked her bottom.  As I got to the cellar floor, I could see that Angela and the boys had been busy.

 

There was a screened off area in the corner, and along one wall seven camp beds had been set out.   A long wooden trellis table had also been set up, and seven wooden chairs were set out around it.

 

Angela was watching us, a nylon stocking pulled down over her head, and Eddie had donned one as well, while Brian and Tommy had balaclavas on.  Suzie was already sat in one of the chairs, looking at us over her tape gag as she wriggled round.

 

“Sit them down,” Angela said, and we deposited the girl in three of the other seat, Alicia next to Suzie as Colin and I put Cassie and Rachel in the two chairs opposite.

 

“WHRRRWWWW,” Alicia called out again.

 

Eednnntknw,” Suzie mumbled, making all three turn and look in her direction.

 

Hgrrrt,” Cassie said as I started to tie her waist to the chair back, “wrntnthnlynns.”

 

“Not by a long chalk,” I said quietly as Colin and Martin secured the other two, and then we stood behind them.

 

“Remove their blindfolds,” Eddie said, and as one we removed the glasses, putting them in our pockets and then gently peeling the tape away from their eyes.

 

Cassie blinked several times before she looked back at me, the balaclava covering my head, and then at the others.

 

“HMGGDDD,” she mumbled through her gag, “Whrrww?”

 

Nndeee,” Suzie said, and I twigged she had been told to pretend she was somewhere else.  Ewassbrthrrrbthm.”  She nodded at Eddie and Tommy, who grinned at the others.

 

Szeeee?  Cseee? Rshl?”  Alicia looked round the room, glaring at her sister, before saying “whnnrrprntshr...”

 

“The first thing your parents are going to hear,” Angela said with a smile under the stocking, “is the ransom demand we are going to send to them.  But that can wait – you must all be hungry.”

 

I turned as I heard footsteps, and then a man and woman, wearing boiler suits and masks, brought in plates of sandwiches and juice cartons.  We all watched as they place them silently on the table, and then walked out again.

 

“Remove their gags and untie their hands,” Eddie said as Angela started to release Suzie.  We all released the arms of our captives, before cutting away the tape and removing the cloths.

 

“I suppose I should thank you,” Alicia said to Martin as she twisted her legs round.  “Where did they get you two?”

 

“At home,” Cassie said as she picked up a sandwich.  “I was in my room, stepped out and they grabbed me, gagged me, tied me and then took me to a van – and now I’m here.”

 

“I was at Patty’s house,” Rachel said, unable to hide the grin on her face, “just reading a book while she helped her mother put some shopping away, and wham – these two men walked in, gagged and blindfolded me, walked me out and now – here we are.  Where are we anyway?”

 

“I don’t know,” Suzie said, “I was grabbed at home, and brought here – wherever here is.”

 

They had all calmed down now, realising it was a game, but they still pretended it was a real kidnapping – which then led to the obvious question.

 

“Hang on,” Alicia said as she looked round, “Seven chairs, seven beds – and four of us?  What’s going on?”

 

“Oh you’re not the only ones we’re snatching,” Angela said as she smiled an evil smile, “But we take care of our guests, and make sure they are fed.”

 

“What about the toilet?”

 

Tommy pointed to the screened off area, as Cassie said “Oh – stupid question I suppose.”

 

“So what happens next,” Rachel said as she sipped on a carton.

 

“We need to get you girls nice and secure after you have been to the toilet,” Eddie said a she produced a video camera, “and then you’re going to record a little message for your parents.  Then we make sure you’re secure for the rest of the afternoon.  We’ll put the radio on, but you won’t be able to move.”

 

The four of them looked at each other as Angela said “Oldest first.”  Martin untied Alicia’s legs and waist, helping her to stand up as she looked at us.

 

“I swear, someday...” she mumbled under her breath, before she walked over to the screen and went behind it.  We tried not to listen as she took care of business, and then we heard a splash of water before she came back out.

 

“What happens when we need to change?”

 

“You’ll find out,” Angela said as she tossed a pair of sponge balls over to her.  “Hold them while these two make sure you cannot use your hands.”

 

“Not the first time this has happened,” she said as Tommy and Brian taped over her fists, and then pulled a pair of sports socks up over them, before taping them to the sleeves of the top she was wearing.  Eddie then crossed her wrists behind her back and started to bind then tightly together, making sure they were secured before he wrapped some rope around her waist.

 

“Her next,” Angela said as she pointed to Cassie, so I untied her legs and waist, and she went to take care of matters.  As she passed Alicia, Eddie was tying her arms to her stomach, before he made her sit on one of the camp beds, crossed her ankles and started to tie them together.

 

As he secured her legs, Angela took care of her upper arms, tying the rope above and below her chest, before using shorter lengths to tighten the bands under her arms. 

 

“Now then,” Eddie said as he picked up the camera, “Send a message to mummy and daddy.”

 

Alicia nodded, swallowed and then said “Mum, I’ve been kidnapped by armed men.  They say they won’t hurt me, but they’ve got me tied up, and I think they’re going to gag me.  Please, do what they ask you to do – I lfffuuuuuuu.”

 

Her last words were stopped by Tommy pushing a folded scarf into her mouth, while Eddie went and started to take care of Cassie.  Brian then pulled a knotted strip of towel into her mouth, her eyes fixed on Martin as the tape was wound round her head.  She was then helped to lie on the bed, before her ankles were secured to the foot of the bed with a final length of rope.

 

“Hey.”

 

I looked over at Angela, who was arranging more lengths of rope.

 

“Don’t you three have some more people to pick up?”

 

“What?  Who else,” Cassie said as she looked at me, but I just put my finger to my lips as the three of us left the cellar, and I heard Eddie say “Your turn, Miss Craig.”

 

The hallway was still empty as we crossed and went back into the van, Mister Bridges waiting patiently for us.  “I have had some sandwiches,” he said as he handed each of us a bag, “You may as well eat this as we drive.  Where are we going next?”

 

“Back to Jenny’s place,” I said, “but not for her.  Not yet.  We have someone else to collect first.”

 

“Oh, who’s that,” Martin said as he bit into a cheese sandwich.

 

“One Lisa Williamson – her neighbour from across the road.”

 

Colin and Martin looked at each other, as I said “Don’t worry – stick to the plan, and everything will be fine.”

 

 

 

As Mister Bridges drew up outside the Williamson house, I looked nervously over to Jenny and Cassie’s place.  There did not seem to be much sign of activity, so I got out and walked over to the front door, ringing the doorbell and waiting as I heard footsteps coming.

 

“Hello Bobby,” Mister Williamson said as he came to the door, “What can I do for you?”

 

“Oh hello Mister Williamson, I was wondering if Charlie was free?  I wanted to ask him to do something for me for my sister’s birthday.”

 

“Well, I think he and Lisa are playing in his bedroom.  Charlie, are you upstairs?”

 

“Yes Dad,” I heard him call down, so he said “Go on up – I have some paperwork I need to deal with spread out on the dining table.”

 

I smiled as I went up the stairs, and he closed the door to the house.  It was one of those that locked with a single mortise key, which I was grateful for.  Knocking on the door to Charlie’s room, I heard him say “Come in.”  I wasn’t surprised to see Lisa sitting on the bed, her arms behind her back and bands of rope around her stomach to hold them in place.

 

She was wearing a Hello Kitty sweatshirt in pink, blue leggings and a pair of pink ankle boots, as she said “Hllbbeee” through the strip of white tape that was covering her mouth.  She kicked her legs to and fro as I said “Sorry, was I interrupting something.”

 

“Not really, Dad wanted the two of us out of the way.  What can I do for you?”

 

“It’s Suzie’s birthday on Monday,  and I was wondering if the two of you had decided what present you were going to get her?”

 

Hyyssstsdwnstrs,” Lisa said as she stood up.  “Whoa, big sis,” Charlie said as he stood up, “I can show Bobby.”

 

Wntntcmmttt.”

 

“It’s all right,” I said as I took her arm, “why don’t I help her to walk downstairs, and then you can show me.”

 

Charlie looked at me, and then said “All right – it’s in the cupboard under the stairs, but Lisa’s not meant to see, so no peeking.”

 

I followed Charlie down the stairs, and left Lisa standing by the front door as he opened the door.  “Come and have a look,” he said as he beckoned me over, the door blocking our view of the front door as I peeked in.

 

“Oh yes,” I said as I heard a muffled shout, and poked Charlie in the ribs.  “That will please her.  Like she doesn’t have enough stuffed teddies.”

 

“Not one that big though,” Charlie said as we both stepped out of the cupboard, and he closed the door.  As we looked back towards the front of the house, Lisa had disappeared, and the front door remained closed.

 

“Funny,” Charlie said as he scratched his head, “Where did Lisa go?”

 

“Probably just went back upstairs to wait for you,” I said in innocence.  As I did so, Mister Williamson said “Charlie, can you come in here a minute?”

 

“I’ll see you later,” I said as I walked out of the house, going as quickly as I could to the van and jumping in as Mister Bridges got out.

 

“That was scary,” Colin said as he finished binding Lisa’s legs together below her knees.  The blackened glasses covered her eyes as she whimpered, and tried to twist round, but Martin had reinforced her arm binding with another pass around her shoulders.

 

“Surprise, Lisa,” I said as I put my hand on her shoulder, “don’t worry – you’re not the first, and you’re not the last.  We need to pick up a couple of others first, so just relax and enjoy the trip.”

 

“We make sure the others have their arms covered,” Martin said as he sat back, “We had to carry her between us, and we were bloody lucky nobody saw us.”

 

“Agreed – so when it comes to our next captive, we play it cool.”

 

 

 

“Hey Bobby,” Patty said as she opened the door to me, and then looked up and down the street.

 

“Hey – what’s up?”

 

“Nothing – I just thought Rachel would have come back by now from the shoe shop.  Jenny was here earlier.”

 

“Oh,” I said as I came in and followed her into the living room, “I heard your mum telling her to go out to the car, and it wasn’t there when I left, so I assume she just jumped in.”

 

“Yeah,” Patty said as she sat down, “but Jenny came round earlier looking for Cass, and we had to tell her she had not come here as well.”

 

She swung her legs to and fro as she sat there, as her mother came in, pulling on a brown leather jacket.  “Hey Bobby,” she said as she looked at me, “Can you do me a huge favour?  Jenny’s mum just rang, and she wants to see me about something.  Can you watch Patty for half an hour?”

 

“Sure,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief inwardly that she was going to be out of the way.  “And when Rachel gets back?”

 

“Give her a drink,” Mrs Pickering said as she grabbed her handbag.  “See you later,” she said as she ran out of the door, and I watched her getting into the car and driving off.

 

“So, what do you want to do,” I said as I looked at Patty.

 

“Well, we could pretend you’ve robbed the house, tie me up and gag me, and then surprise Rachel when she gets here.”  Her eyes twinkled under her glasses before she took them off, and said “Hang on – do you want a drink first?”

 

“I’d love one,” I said as she stood up and made her way to the kitchen.  I sat there, listening for a moment, until I heard her scream “BBBEEEEEHLPMMMMM”

 

I jumped up and ran into the kitchen, to see Patty being held by Colin, his gloved hand over her mouth.  I could see the edges of the cloth between his fingers, as Martin smoothed a strip of tape over her eyes and then turned to me.

 

“No heroics, big man,” he snarled, “Just stay cool and give a message to this little beauty’s mother.”

 

“All right, put the gun down,” I said as Patty whimpered, “What’s the message?”

 

“Tell her,” Colin said in an outrageous accent as Martin taped over Patty’s mouth, and he secured her wrists behind her back with a plastic strip, “that we’ll be in touch with a ransom demand, and she’s not to call the police.  Where’s her coat?”

 

“All right, all right, just don’t hurt her,” I said as I fetched her duffle coat, and they fastened it over her upper body, Martin adding the dark glasses over her eyes.

 

“We won’t if you do as we say,” Colin said as he gripped Patty’s arms, giving Martin time to roll up his balaclava again, then taking Patty from Colin as he removed his mask.  “No cops – we’ll be in touch.  Let’s go.”

 

They marched Patty out of the house between them, as I watched them taking her to the van and lifting her inside.  Two more down – and as they drove off, I saw Jenny coming down the road.

 

“Bobby,  she said as I closed the front door and walked down to meet her in the street, “Have you seen Cassie at all?  She just disappeared this morning, and I can’t find her anywhere.”

 

“Well, she’s not here,” I said, “your aunt just went round to your place, and Rachel’s mum took Patty with Rachel to get some tea.  Have you tried Lisa?”

 

“Yeah – but she hasn’t seen her, and Alicia has managed to vanish as well.   I can’t help thinking something bad is going down.”

 

“Look,” I said as I took out my mobile phone, “she probably got a call from Patty or one of the others and went out with them.  I bet if you go home now, she’ll be there.”

 

“Yeah – yeah that must be it,” Jenny said as she hugged me, “You’re right.  I’ll see you.”  She walked back the way she came, me watching before I went in the other direction, and turned the corner.

 

“I saw Miss Jennifer approaching, and felt it would be best if I moved,” Mister Bridges whispered as I got in the front.  “Shall I head there now?”

 

“Give her a few minutes head start,” I said as I heard Patty whimpering in the back, “We need her there when Colin goes in.”

 

 



“Colin – oh thank god you’re here.  I’m getting really scared.”

 

Martin and I had sneaked back into the Craig house, and were hiding in the kitchen as we heard Jenny answer the front door.

 

“Why, what’s going on,” he said as we heard the front door close.

 

“I know it’s stupid, but when I called Cassie down to talk to you earlier?”

 

“Yeah – she never came down.  What happened - got herself a little tied up?”

 

“I don’t know – she just vanished.  Mum and Dad said she probably went to Patty or Lisa’s place, but I called round the others to see if they had seen her as well.”

 

“Had they?”

 

“No – and then I went to see both of the girls, and they had not seen her.”

 

“Well, she probably was between places.  Where are your mum and dad now?”

 

“Aunt Jessie just came round – she said Rachel went somewhere with her mother, and that Bobby was watching her.  Mum went back round with her, and Dad’s in the attic still sorting things out.  I know it sounds daft, Colin, but given everything that’s happened this year...”

 

“Hey, hey – look, your mum and dad are safe, so that’s not what’s happened here.  Look, why don’t I go up and have a word with him, and see if he has heard anything, then I’ll come back down, all right?”

 

“Yeah – thanks,” we heard Jenny say, and then the sound of footsteps as Colin went upstairs.  “Can I come up Mister Craig,” we heard him say, and a muffled reply, before all was silent.

 

Which was our cue.  I opened the kitchen door to see Jenny standing with her back to me, her hand rubbing the side of her grey leggings.  I nodded to Martin, who stepped out and walked silently up to her, a cloth in his hand.

 

I watched as he grabbed her and held the cloth over her mouth, dragging her back as she kicked her legs out and shouted “WHTTTHHLLLLL” as she was pulled into the kitchen.  He held her tightly, her eyes widening as she looked at my covered head, just long enough for me to smooth the tape over her eyes.

 

“Stop struggling, Jenny,” I said as I took and other length of tape, and smoothed it over her stuffed mouth as Martin removed his gloved hand, “you’re being kidnapped.”

 

Bbbbe?   BBBEHLDRNSSWHNEGGTT....”

 

Sssh,” I said as Martin secured her wrists together behind her back, “you want to join Cassie, don’t you?”

 

“UDTTTT?”

 

“That’s right,” I said as the door opened and Colin handed me her coat, “so just relax – it’s going to be all right.”

 

Hllsssssnnths?”

 

“Hush,” I said as I put the glasses over her eyes, and walked her with Martin to the garage, “You’ll see.”  We rolled up our hats and walked her out into the late December sunshine, Mister Bridges holding the door open as we sat her inside and started to tie her legs together.

 

Whtssgngnggg,” Patty said as she turned her head round.

 

Hgrrttugtpttee,” Jenny said as I tied her legs together.

 

Ntjsssthhrr.”

 

Lss?  Hlss?”

 

“Wait and see,” I said as Colin got in the front, and we drove off.

 

 

 

 

The four girls looked up from their beds as the three of us carried out captives over our shoulders, Martin with Jenny, me with Patty and Colin with Lisa.

 

Angela put a finger to her lips as we sat them in chairs, and then said “Well done – you two, get ready.”

 

Tommy and Brian suppressed a giggle as they held a sponge ball, a sock and a roll of duct tape in each hand, while I untied Jenny’s wrists.  Eddie and Angela then grabbed an arm each as the other two made their hands into silver covered balls, and then Eddie tied her crossed wrists together behind her back, as well as tying them to her waist.

 

Hstrhr,” Jenny said as Martin and Colin held their hands on the shoulders of the other two, and Angela tied the ropes above and below Jenny’s chest.  Eddie then picked her up carried her to the bed next to Alicia, who watched as he laid her down, and secured her ankles to the foot of the camp bed.

 

“Just keep quiet, we’ll remove the blindfolds soon enough,” Angela said as Patty was dealt with next, Jenny wriggling round before she said “Ngle?”

 

Ysss.”

 

Lshe?   Hlsss?”

 

“No talking,” Angela said as she secured Patty’s arms, and then Eddie carried her over to the next bed.  A few minutes later, Lisa found herself on the last empty bed, wriggling round as the ropes rubbed over her sweatshirt.

 

“All right – remove their blindfolds.”

 

The three of us removed the glasses, and then peeled the tape away, Jenny blinking as she looked at Alicia, then over at Cassie, Rachel and Suzie.

 

Whthhlllsgnnnn,” she said as she looked at Colin, and realised something for the first time.   llffuuu?  LFFUURNNTHS?  WTTLLLIGT...”

 

Gtnln,” Alicia said as she looked at me and Martin.

 

“Oh we’re scared,” I said as Angela set out the Monopoly board.  “We’ve got some time,” she said as the new arrivals looked round the cellar, “Let’s play.”

 

It was a really strange experience – for the next ninety minutes or so, the seven of us played Monopoly, while our seven captives could do little more than wriggle round on the beds, and try to talk to each other.  I could see the frustration in Cassie’s eyes as she looked up at us – she wanted to do something, anything, but there was no way for her to do so.

 

As for me – I looked at Colin and Martin, and saw the same glint of exhilaration in their eyes.  We had done it – snatched all seven of them, did it one at a time, and managed to avoid getting into any trouble.

 

All I could hope for was it would go as well tomorrow – the last five were not going to be nearly as easy...

 

“A thousand pounds please.”

 

I looked at my car, standing in front of the motel at Mayfair, and held my hands up.

 

“I’m out,” I said as I pushed the chair away, “I’ll see what’s happened to their dinner.”

 

Hsswwgggttet,” Jenny said as she looked at me.

 

“Would you rather starve,” I said as I looked at her, and I loved the way she played along shaking her head before it fell back in the pillow.

 

“Good – now stay there,” I said as I walked back up the stairs.

 

“There you are,” Dad said as I came out of the cellar, “So far so good?”

 

I nodded, and then said “What about Mum?”

 

“Your grandfather spoke to her – now, what do you need?”

 

“Enough fried chicken for 14,” I said quietly as I left with Dad...

 

 

 

 

 

“Dinner time,” I said as I and the other two masked guards brought down the buckets and bottles of pop, and laid them on the wooden table.  One by one Eddie and Angela untied the girls from the beds, starting with Jessie, and sat them on the chairs, securing their waists before their arms were released.

 

Only when all seven were sat, Jenny last of all, was the tape cut away from their mouths and their gags finally removed.  All seven reached as soon as they could for a cup of soft drink, and downed it as quickly as they could.

 

“You,” Jenny said as she stared at Colin, “are a dead man, Colin Hampton.  Do you know how freaking worried I was about Cassie and the others?”

 

Thanks, Sis,” Cassie said as she picked up a chicken strip, “I’ve had a fun time as well.  How did they get you in the end?”

 

“I think I was last – Colin,” Jenny said as she shot a less angry look at him,” came round and pretended to comfort me, and then these two reprobates grabbed me and pulled me into the kitchen.  I thought they were real kidnappers, with the balaclavas over their heads, until they taped my eyes over and gagged me.  Only then did Robert Desmond Holderness decide to let me know it was them.”

 

“Join the club,” Alicia said, but she was grinning, “I was asked to make some coffee, then bam – here I was.”

 

“Where is here anyway?”

 

“No idea – like you, we were blindfolded until we were here.”

 

Patty was looking at Rachel, before she said “So did you get to your shoe fitting?”

 

“What shoe fitting – I was snatched while you were helping your mother.”

 

“You were?”  Patty looked at me, as I shrugged my shoulders and said “Yup – we’re just lucky Mrs Rigg didn’t come before us.”

 

“And you still came back for me – and you stood there and pretended there was a ransom demand coming?”

 

“Oh there is,” Eddie said with a smile under the stocking, “we’ll record that while the others are getting ready for bed.”

 

“Hang on,” Lisa said as she looked round, “I was taken completely by surprise when I was blindfolded and lifted out of my own front door by you two.  How are you going to explain this to my mum and dad – never mind Charlie?  You tricked him!”

 

“Others are taking care of that,” I said, but I had to admit the idea of explaining this to Lisa’s father was not one I wanted to see.

 

“So you’ve kidnapped the seven of us, brought us only you know where, and what now – we stay here?”

 

“Exactly,” I said with a smile as Angela picked up a bag, opening it to take out a white nightgown.  “How did you guess?  We’ll see if your parents respond to the ransom demands in the morning.”

 

The girls looked to the camp beds, where Tommy had laid some sleeping bags out to cover them with, and then back to us.  “You’ll never get away with this,” Cassie said as she looked at me, “Our parents will be looking for us now.”

 

“And they won’t find you – I guarantee it,” I said as she finished her drink.  “Now, all of you, eat up – then we get you ready for sleep.”

 

“Well, at least you got some popcorn chicken,” Alicia said as she dipped a piece into the barbecue sauce, “but don’t think for one moment I’m not going to get you back for this someday.”  She at least winked at Martin as she said this, so I could tell she was joking.

 

Well, half joking.

 

“Right,” Eddie said as he pulled Lisa back from the table, “I want you to film a nice message to Mummy and Daddy, telling them you have been kidnapped and not to contact the police.  While we do that, Rachel is first to get ready for bed.”

 

“You can wash and change in the same place as before,” Angela said as she untied Rachel, then picked up one of the night dresses, “You two be ready with tape and sponges when we come out.”

 

“Yes, boss,” Tommy and Brian said as Rachel walked to the screened off area, saying “See you lot later” as she waved to us.

 

“You three,” Angela said as she looked at us before she followed Rachel, “Clear this mess up.  I want  a tidy lair.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” we said in unison as I picked up a black bag and we started to clear the rubbish away.

 

“So just how long are we going to be here,” Cassie said as Lisa spoke to the camera.

 

“You’ll find out,” I said with a smile, “Eventually.”

 

“Great,” she said as she heard the sound of water, “A night of boredom.”

 

“Oh we’ll put the radio on,” Eddie said as he gagged Lisa with a strip of tape, and filmed her mmphed pleas, “I hope you like Rachmaninov.”

 

Cassie rolled her eyes as we heard a very familiar squelching and ripping sound, and then Rachel came back in.  The white nightdress she wore came to the floor, but she couldn’t say anything - the band of white tape around her mouth and her puffed out cheeks testified to that.

 

We watched as the two younger boys secured her hands as before, and then sat her on the bed, tying her ankles and her legs around the nightdress.

 

“Now stay there,” Angela said as she released Lisa, and Eddie brought Patty over for the filming.

 

The routine followed that pattern, after Lisa returned and Patty was released.  One by one the girls were untied from the chairs, walked behind the screen, and then came back wearing a plain white nightdress with their mouths gagged.  Patty, like Rachel, had a gown that reached the floor, while Cassie, Lisa and Suzie had one that reached to just below their knees, so that their legs were properly secured below the knees as the skirt covered the band.

 

Alicia and Jenny had similar gowns, but in their size, so that their knees were just covered as well.  Jenny was last, having told her Mum and Dad she was with Cassie, they were both well, but to – well, the rest was cut off by the tape.  As she was sat on the last bed, and her legs secured, Angela went back to Rachel and started to tie two more bands of rope around her arms and body – one above the band that held her forearms to her sides, and the other around her shoulders.

 

Frbnds,” Cassie said as she looked at Angela.  “Yes,” she said quietly – all the girls already had their arms secured around their waists and their stomachs, but a sit was the one female captor doing the two extra bands, which was within our rules.

 

Once Rachel had the additional ropes around her upper body, the others watched as Angela lay her on her side, pulled her legs gently back, and secured her ankles to her chest ropes in a fairly loose hogtie.  Alicia and Jenny looked at each other, then at Angela, as if they had a question.

 

“It will encourage you to lie still,” was her response as she started to work on Lisa.  I had a sneaking feeling I knew what the unasked question was, but I could see the glint of anticipation and worry in the eyes of both my sister and Cassie, so I said nothing else, just watching as one by one they were tied and left on the beds.

 

Eddie walked over and switched on the radio, the classical music filling the cellar as Angela said “Right – I’ll be all right down here for a while.  You boys clear off – two hour shifts.”

 

“Gotcha Boss,” I said as the rest of us left the cellar, slowly walking up the stairs as Angela sat down with a magazine to watch our captives.

 

 

“That... was... freaking AMAZING!” Brian said after I had closed the cellar door.  “Thanks for letting us do that today!”

 

“Thanks for agreeing to help out,” Colin said as Dad looked out from the front room.

 

“Hot chocolate and marshmallows in here – and then you all need to get an early night,” he said with a smile, “you have an early start tomorrow.”

 

“I need to get going,” Eddie said as he rubbed his hair, “What time will you be calling tomorrow?”

 

“About nine,” I said as I checked my plans, “and thanks again Eddie.”

 

“Hey don’t thank me yet,” he said with a smile, “Mary and Cathy are fairly simple – it’s the other three you need to worry about.”

 

“Don’t worry,” I said with some confidence, “I have a cunning plan.”

 

“That’s what Baldrick said,” Eddie laughed as he went to the door.  “Sleep well guys.”

 

I felt as if I would, but he was right – we did have a more difficult day in the morning.  Still, we went into the front room, and sat down as we each picked up a steaming mug and watched the film on Sky Movies – Iron Man 3.

 

After a while, Angela joined us.  “They all fell asleep within an hour,” she said as she sat herself down, and rubbed her hair.  “I honestly don’t know which of us Alicia is going to kick first, but at least she’s getting into it.”

 

“Your mum called,” Dad said, “and I think she might want to kick you as well, but she’s calmed down now.”

 

“So Granddad talked to her?”

 

“Actually, I believe your grandmother did.  Which reminds me – there’s a bag of clothes upstairs for Alicia and Jenny to wear tomorrow morning.  The others can borrow some of Suzie’s clothes – her older ones are there for Patty and Rachel.”

 

“Fair enough,” Angela said as she stretched and yawned, “so what time are we going to wake them up?”

 

Dad glanced at his watch.  “It’s only nine thirty now – so we wake them up at six am, let them shower, change and then tie them to the chairs for breakfast.”

 

“Where are they going to shower?”

 

Angela looked at me and shook her head.  “You really did not see that there is a fully equipped bathroom behind that screen?  We even out toothbrushes and toothpaste in there for them.”

 

“Truth to tell, I didn’t look behind the doors that closely,” I said with a smile.   “I guess the Scouts had that installed in there for some obscure reason.  Still, at least they will get...  Hey, where did the nightgowns come from?”

 

 

“Charity shop,” Angela said as she yawned again, “My contribution.  I am whacked – where am I sleeping?”

 

“Suzie’s room,” Dad said as he looked at us.  “In fact, all of you, bed – now.  A lot still to do tomorrow.”

 

We nodded and stood up, making our way to the rooms.  As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out...

 

 

 

30th December

 

“Up and at em, Bobby – it’s five thirty.”

 

I opened my eyes to see Dad standing by the bed, a mug of tea in his hand.  Colin also stretched and yawned, as he said “That time already?”

 

“Don’t worry – after tonight, you can lie in tomorrow,” Dad said as he gave Colin a mug of tea as well.  “Now, Angela is getting ready, and then the three of you need to help her to get your guests dressed and let them have their breakfasts before you secure them all for the morning.”

 

“Sure,” Colin said before her sipped his tea.  “So what’s the agenda for today,” he said as he looked at me, while Dad left us alone.

 

“Mary and Cathy first – bring them back here, and then comes the really tricky part.”

 

“The last three,” Colin said as he nodded.  “What is your plan – you haven’t told us yet.”

 

“Later – one thing at a time,” I said as I got out of bed, “I’ll go and get washed first.”

 

 

 

 

“There you are,” Angela said as the three of us came down the stairs, Martin still rubbing his eyes.  We had put on the same clothes as yesterday, with our jackets, and held our balaclavas in our hands.  Angela was wearing a grey boiler suit, and smiled at us as she pulled her ski mask on.

 

“Tommy and Brian will wake later, and Eddie is coming once you collect Mary, so we need to get them up and changed.  I already brought down their clothes,” she said as she opened the door to the cellar and we walked down.

 

The seven of them were still sleeping, so I walked over to Rachel, leaned over and whispered into her ear “Morning sleepy head.”  She stirred, turned her head and looked at me, saying “stmmrrnnglrde?”

 

“It is,” Angela whispered as I started to untie Rachel, “so I want you to come with me to the bathroom, wash and do what you need to, and then change into some clean clothes.”

 

Rachel nodded as I removed the ropes from her legs, and helped her to stand up, while Angela took her behind the screen with her arms still secured with the four bands of rope around her chest.  As we heard the sound of running water, Colin and I started to untie Lisa, while Martin whispered into Patty’s ear.

 

As Lisa stood up, Angela brought Rachel back in.  I could see she was wearing a pair of Suzie’s old grey joggers and an old striped jumper of hers, with a pair of bedsocks pulled up over her legs.  As Colin led Lisa over, I guided Rachel to one of the chairs at the table, noticing the plastic zip tie that held her wrists together behind her back, and sat her down.

 

She didn’t complain as I tied her legs and waist to the chair – she couldn’t given the strip of brown plaster Angela had pressed over her mouth.  Instead she watched through her glasses as one by one the girls were woken up, their legs released and then walked to Angela, as the next one came and sat at the table.

 

Lisa was wearing a pair of Suzie’s floral leggings, socks and a long sleeved blue top, while Patty had on an old pair of her denim dungarees over a long sleeved blouse.  She also had her glasses back on – we’d remembered to bring them the previous day.  Suzie was wearing her white roll neck jumper under a checked shirt, and black leggings, while Cassie borrowed her black cardigan and blue t-shirt, with a pair of jeans.

 

Mrnnnglll,” Alicia said as she came back through, wearing a blue denim shirt and jeans, and she sat down, watching as Martin carefully tied her to the chair. 

 

Swhttthplnfrttdd,” Cassie said as she looked at me, and then Jenny came in, wearing Alicia’s green jumper and a pair of joggers.  Once Colin had secured her to the last chair, Angela left them under our guard, before she returned with the two masked and boiler suit wearing people.  They laid out a number of variety packs of cereal, milk, pastries and bottles of orange juice, before leaving us as quietly as they had come in.  Some disposable bowls, plates and spoons were also left.

 

“Remove their gags,” Angela said, and one by one we peeled the plaster away and cut their wrists free.

 

“And a very good morning to you as well,” Jenny said as she smiled at Colin and rubbed her wrists.  “I guess I can forgive you now that I have slept on it.”

 

“Yeah,” Alicia said as she selected a box of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, “I may not kill you either, Martin, but I still haven’t decided about Bobby.”

 

I smiled as Lisa said “Wow – that was an interesting night’s sleep.  What time is it anyway?”

 

“Not saying,” Angela said, “but we have spoken to your parents, and they are all raising the ransom we have asked for. Now, eat – we need to secure you again for today?”

 

“We’re staying here,” Suzie said in a plaintive voice, “but it’s my birthday tomorrow!”

 

“Well then,” I said as I put my hands on her shoulders, “Let us hope your parents pay up today, so that you can be at home in time.”

 

Suzie gulped in character, and then ate her Frosties as Patty said “But my mum doesn’t have very much money.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Martin said in his deep voice, “she has agreed to pay.”

 

The breakfast passed fairly peacefully, as the girls chatted and pretended to be the hostages they were.  Eventually, Angela looked at her watch and said “Right – Suzie first.”  As if on cue, we heard footsteps on the stairs as Tommy and Brian came down.

 

“Open wide, Miss Holderness,” I said as I stood behind Suzie, and pushed the cloth into her mouth, before tying a fresh length of towel between her lips, and then wrapping the white tape around her head.  Releasing her, I watched as she stood up and walked to Angela.

 

“And you three,” she said as she looked at us, “get going.  You have appointments to keep.”

 

“What,” Jenny said as she looked Colin, “Appointments with who?”

 

“You’ll see,” I said as we walked up stairs, leaving them to be gagged and secured, while we went to the dining room and grabbed a quick bite to eat.

 

“Mister Bridges is waiting outside,” Dad said as he came in, “good luck.”

 

We finished some glasses of milk, and literally ran out to the waiting van, as Mister Bridges sat behind the wheel, moving off as soon as we were in.

 

 

 

 

Mary Holmes lives on a nice little estate, a short drive away from Chez Craig, so as we pulled up, and Mister Bridges reversed up the driveway, I got out to see Eddie standing by the garage.

 

“Right,” he said as I walked up, “Mary is in her room.  Top of the stairs, first door on the left.  Give me a few minutes to get Mum and Dad with me in the front room – I need to sort out the accommodation paperwork for me for next year.  I’ll see you later.”  He smiled and went to the front door, closing it behind himself as he went in.

 

I nodded as I opened the door of the van, waving Colin in as Martin waited in the van with the materials.  Colin had the tape, while I had a plastic zip tie in my pocket.

 

We went to the front door and slowly opened it, going in as we heard Eddie talking to his parents  and walking slowly up the stairs.  As Colin stepped on one about halfway up, it creaked, and I heard Mary say “Eddie, watch that step!”

 

We looked at each other, breathed, and then I stepped over it as we made it to the top.  We pulled our hats down over our faces, made sure our gloves were properly on, and then Colin counted off on his fingers.

 

On zero, we opened the door and walked in, surprising Mary as she turned and looked at us.  She was wearing a blue leotard over a green body stocking, and had a green scarf holding her hair back.

 

“What the – MUM! DAD!” she screamed out as Colin walked in and turned her round, hand gagging her while I stood in front of her and pushed one of her cotton bandanas into her mouth.  She then did what none of the others had done – brought the heel of her foot down hard on Colin’s trainer and making her yelp in pain.

 

“Bad move,” he mumbled as pushed her gently against the wall, while I pulled her wrists behind her back and secured them together, then turned her round as Colin pressed a length of tape over her eyes, and then three over her mouth.

 

“MMMMDDDDDDEEDEEEE” she called out again, as I held her shoulders and said “Surprise Mary – the girls have been kidnapped, and now so have you.”

 

Kdnpppdddbbbe?   Hmfrtgngdwhnedeeknws...”

 

“Hush,” I said as we sat her down, and Bobby found her black mid-length leather boots, pulling them over her legs and zipping them up before helping her to stand.  I picked up a checked poncho and pulled that over her head, before putting a pair of the blacked out glasses over her taped eyes.

 

“Now, walk, nice and quiet – no sense upsetting your parents or Eddie,” I said as Colin went out and looked down the stairs, motioning to me to walk Mary down.  We slowly crept down, avoiding that dratted squeaky stair, and then I opened the door as Colin bundled her outside.

 

Closing the door quietly behind me, we walked her quickly to the waiting van, where we sat her down.  Martin started to tie her legs together, while I lifted the poncho up and replaced the zip tie around her arms with rope, then tied some around her waist.

 

Whrrrthgrls,” Mary mumbled as Colin wrapped more tape around her mouth and head, “ndndwhwhlpsu?”

 

“All in good time,” I said with a smile as we moved off, “We need to pick our next guest up.”

 

 

 

 

 

Cathy Harmer looked up from the counter as I walked in, saying “Hey Bobby” as she closed her book.  “Come about your mum’s order?”

 

“Yeah,” I said as I looked at her, “She wanted to make sure there were no problems with it.”  Cathy was wearing a brown scarf round her neck, over a thick white wool jumper, and she had a pair of fingerless gloves on her hands with a pink sleeveless padded jerkin over the jumper.

 

“Oh hello Bobby,” her mother said as she looked through, “Tell your mum no problem, I’ll drop her order off later today.”

 

“Great, thanks,” I said as she placed a box of buttonholes and bouquets on the counter.  “Cathy, darling, could you take these out the back to the van?  We need to deliver them to the wedding party this afternoon, and I need to make a head start on the arrangements for the reception.”

 

“Sure Mum,” she said as she went to pick them up.  “Here,” I said as I took the box, “let me help you.”

 

“Thanks – this way, she said as she took me round the counter and through the workshop, her mother smiling at both of us as we went out of the back door and into the loading area at the back of the row of shops.  Cathy saw the old grey van parked next to the “Harmer Florist” van, but thought nothing of it as she opened the rear door of her van.

 

“Just put them in there,” she said as I leaned in and placed the box on the van floor, only to turn as I heard Cathy yelp in muffled surprise.  Martin was holding her arms behind her back while Colin placed a strip of white tape over her stuffed mouth, the ski masks covering both their heads.

 

“Don’t think of it, or she gets hurt,” Colin said in a deep bass voice, as Martin secured Cathy’s wrists behind her back with rope.  She stared at me, her brown fur boots desperately trying to kick at Colin, but he dodged them and covered her eyes with the tape, then the glasses.

 

“Tell her mothers we’ll be in touch,” he said as I watched them bundle Cathy into our van, allowing em to close the van door shut and then quietly wait for a couple of minutes, watching to see if her mother did come out.  Once I was sure we were good, I got into our van and saw Cathy sitting against the van wall, her legs tied together below her keens and rope around her waist and ankles.

 

Whthhllsgng” she moaned, only to stop as she heard a second voice say “btsmmm.”

 

Mree?”

 

Cffeee?”

 

“Surprise, Cathy,” I said as we moved off, “this is a kidnapping.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride – you’ll be with the others soon enough.”

 

 

 

 

 

As I opened the door to the cellar, and ushered Martin and Colin down with our latest captives, I saw that the seven hostages were sitting on the beds again, their ankles tied to the foot of the camp beds.

 

Hggdddthgtut,” Alicia screamed as Mary and Cathy were sat on a chair.

 

Lshee,” Mary said as Colin untied her wrists, then held one arm as Martin held the other, allowing Brian and Tommy to cover their arms before Angela re-tied her wrists, removed her poncho and started to tie her arms to her side.

 

Ntjstsm,” Alicia said as she winked at us, watching as her friend had her arms tied like the others, and then her waist tied to the chair before her ankles were pulled under and tied to her waist.

 

Cathy had the same treatment, before we removed the glasses and blindfolds.

 

Mrnncmprs,” Jenny said as she looked at her friends.  Cathy blinked before she groaned, but Mary stared at the young man standing against the wall, chuckling under the stocking mask.

 

Eddeee?  Eddeelhms mgnnakluuuu!!!”

 

“There’s going to be an awful lot of killing,” Eddie said as he looked at the others, “Anyway, you are now our hostages, so you might as well sit there and like it.  Right you three – time to pick the last guests up.”

 

“Let’s go,” I said as Colin and Martin followed me out, and we went back to the van.

 

“Right,” I said quietly, “Let’s review.  Hazel and Claire Irvine – the terrible twins as Cassie sometimes calls them.  I think they’re rather sweet, but hey.  Now they live about a mile from our other target, but in one of the older estates.  The house has nowhere to park safely in the front, but Cassie has shown me some pictures of their back garden.”

 

I showed them the shots, with a small shed at the back of the garden.

 

“There’s a rear access road, and the gate is never locked, so what we’re going have to do is use that to get into the garden, and then watch to see when they come for a drink.”

 

“Risky – how are we going to be able to do that?”

 

“Because their phone is in the kitchen, and apparently they take great pride in being first to answer it.”

 

“Fair enough,” Colin said, “Then there’s Pippa.”

 

“Yup – Pippa Brooks lives with her mother on the outskirts of town.  We may have to do there what we did with Mary – but first things first.  Let’s get the twins first.”

 

We stopped the van on the rear access road, Mister Bridges watching as we got out and checked the gate.  Looking in, we saw the shed, and slipped in, making our way over and setting up our base of operations in the shed.

 

“Right,” I said quietly, “Martin, you wait here – give us time to get to the kitchen door, and then call the house.  And pray they are the ones who come to the phone – if their parents answer, say ‘Sorry – wrong number’ and then you and Colin swap.”

 

Martin nodded and crouched as Colin and I crept up to the back of the house, grateful for the cover of the high fence, the balaclavas pulled down over our heads.  We looked at each other, panting as I put my gloved hand on the door handle, and slowly pulled it down.  It opened easily, so I left it a little ajar as we waited.

 

The tension was unbearable – so much so that I actually jumped when I heard the phone ringing.  We listened until we heard a girl say “Claire Irvine, how can I help you?”

 

I opened the door and looked in to see Claire standing there, wearing a big brown jumper that covered her from her shoulders to her knees, brown leggings and a pair of brown shoes.

 

“No, I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number,” she said as we crept in, and then she gasped as Colin put his gloved hand over her mouth and lifted her up, me putting her legs under one arm as we carried her out of the kitchen, closing the door behind us as we took her to the shed.

 

She wriggled like mad as we went in, and then stopped, her eyes wide open as she saw Martin in his ski mask.  “Just stay calm,” he said as he tore a strip of tape off the roll and pressed it over her eyes, “and keep quiet.”

 

“MMMDDDDDD” she called out, so as soon as Colin moved his hand I pushed a folded cloth into her mouth and taped it over.

 

“Claire?  Are you out here?”

 

“Not a word,” Martin hissed as he stared at Claire, scaring her into silence as we looked out of the shed window.  Her dad was looking round, and then shrugged his shoulders as he went back in.

 

I pulled Claire’s wrists behind her back and sip tied them together, then left her with Martin, his arms round her as he said “You stay here, toots, while we nab your sister.”

 

Hzzllll,” I heard Claire whimper, as Colin and I sneaked back to our position at the back door.  Peeking in the window, I could see the phone had been replaced, so we waited until Martin dialled again.

 

I was about to open the kitchen door when we heard her mother say “Irvine residence,” and Colin put his hand on mine.  We waited as we listened to Mrs Irvine say “That’s all right,” and put the phone back.

 

“Who was it Mum?”

 

“Wrong number – have you seen Claire?”

 

“Not since she ran to answer the phone.”

 

She must have gone to the shed to look for something – can you take this coat out to her?”

 

“Sure thing mum,” we heard Hazel say, and sure enough she came out, a grey duffle coat over her clothes as she carried a second one in her arms.  We watched her as she walked down the path to the shed, and Colin slipped after her, while I stayed by the kitchen window.

 

“Barbara – got a minute?”

 

“Coming, Grant,” I heard her say in response to their father, and then the door to the house from the kitchen closing.  I looked in, and then back as Hazel opened the door to the shed, and getting only to say “Hey, y....” before Colin hand gagged her and lifted her inside.

 

“Please don’t be loud, please don’t be loud,” I whispered to myself as I ran back and went in, in time to see Colin pull Hazel’s wrists behind her back while Martin covered her mouth with tape.

 

Plssdnthrrts,” Hazel moaned as Claire twisted round on the floor.

 

“Now why on earth would we hurt you,” I said quietly, “Suzie would kill me if I did so.”

 

Both girls stopped struggling when they heard me, and looked with their covered eyes in my direction.

 

“Hey girls,” I said quietly, “this is a kidnapping.  Just stay calm and do as we tell you, and everything will be just fine.”

 

Stthubbe,” Hazel said as she twisted her head round.

 

“Yup,” I said as I put the glasses over their eyes, and the others got to work tying their ankles and legs.  “Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”  I put the spare coat on Claire, covering her bound arms, and checked the ropes that held Hazel’s to her side.

 

Martin looked out of the shed, and said “All clear” as I lifted Hazel over my shoulder, and Colin carried Claire.  As Martin opened the shed door, we ran to the rear gate, and then deposited both of them in the van.

 

“Right,” I said as I closed the side door of the van, and we headed off, “We have one more stop to make, and then you can join the others.”

 

Whtffrs,” Claire said as she pretended to struggle.

 

“You’ll see,” I said quietly, “You’ll see...”

 

 

 

 

 

Mister Bridges pulled in at the front of Pippa’s house, on the round road at the top of the drive.

 

“Well, here we are,” Colin whispered as he looked out of the door, “No idea what the house is like inside, no idea what’s going to face us.”

 

“Let’s find out,” I said as I looked to Martin.  He nodded as he got out with a letter in his hand and walked up to the front door, ringing the doorbell and waiting.

 

“Yes,” Pippa’s mother said as she opened the door, “Oh – it’s Martin Davies, isn’t it?  What can I do for you?”

 

“Sorry to disturb you at home, Mrs Brooks,” Martin said politely, “but my parents asked me to come round in person and tell you the order you made has come in.”

 

“Who is it Mum?”  We watched as Pippa came to the door, wearing a Hello Kitty pink sweatshirt, pink joggers and white trainers with pink highlights.

 

“Martin from the music shop just came to tell me the records I ordered have come in,” Mrs Brooks said as she hugged her daughter.  “Thanks for coming out of your way and telling me.”

 

“No problem – I was in the area anyway,” Martin said with a smile.  “Nobody calling today Pippa?”

 

“Nope – the twins were coming round later, but I haven’t heard from them yet.”

 

“Well, I’m sure you will,” Martin said as he waved to them, and then walked off, the two of them going back into the house.  As he went past, he walked up the side of the van and got in the front,

 

“Let’s go,” I said as Colin and I stepped out and walked to the front door, looking round before we tried the door handle.

 

It wouldn’t turn, so we looked round, and then walked round the side of the house and looked in the kitchen.  Pippa was sitting at the kitchen table, drawing in a book, as her mother walked out of the room.

 

We nodded to each other, and then I opened the kitchen door, the tow of us pulling the ski masks down as we walked in.  Pippa looked up, and my god did she scream!

 

“Hush it,” Colin hissed as I clamped a gloved hand over her mouth, pushing the cloth I was holding in as I hand gagged her.  Before Colin could do anything else, however, her mother came in and said “Pippa, what is it...  Oh my god!”

 

“Don’t say a word, lady,” Colin said in a fairly convincing Birmingham accent, “just sit down with your hands on your head and keep calm.”  He had his hand in his pocket and seemed to be pointing something at Mrs Brooks, who nodded and said “all right” as she complied.

 

“Good,” he said as he took the tape from his pocket and tossed it to me.  “Tape the kid up while I explain to Mummy dearest what’s happening.”

 

Mmmmm,” Pippa said, wide eyed as I wrapped the white tape around her head, and then covered her eyes before I pulled her arms behind her back.

 

“We’re taking your daughter with us,” Colin said as he looked at Mrs Brooks.  “Don’t call the police, or do anything stupid – stay by the phone and wait for our call.”

 

“Why?”

 

Colin looked at me, and I nodded as I zip tied Pippa’s wrists together. 
 

“You’ll find out,” Colin growled as I put the dark glasses over Pippa’s eyes.  I walked her to the hallway, Colin watching Mrs Brooks as he said “Remember, no cops, and wait for our call.”

 

“MMMEEEE” Pippa cried out as I opened the front door, and picked her up, walking quickly to the side of the van as Martin held the door open, Colin running after me.

 

“Drive!” I said to Mister Bridges as soon as the door was closed, and then I took my mobile phone out.

 

“Holderness?”

 

“Grandfather, it’s me – I just picked Pippa up, and she’s the last one, but please call her mother and tell her what’s going on first – she watched us take her.”

 

“I understand, but well done none the less.  Your grandmother and I will start calling immediately, and we will see you later.”

 

As I ended the call, I looked at Martin and Colin, who had secured Pippa, and then let out a laugh.

 

Bbeehldrnss?”  Pippa screamed as she twisted her head round.

 

Pppeee?”

 

Hsll?  Whrsclr?”

 

Hrrrr.”

 

The three of us looked in my direction, but I was too busy laughing in relief to do much about it...

 

 

 

 

“EEEKNWT, EEEKNWT,” Cassie screamed out as we carried the last three down the stairs, and sat them in the chairs next to Mary and Cathy.

 

“Well done, Boys,” Angela said as Eddie untied Pippa’s hands, only for Tommy and Brian to get to work before he re-tied them and Angela added the extra ropes.

 

We stood back, suddenly feeling very tired as the last three were re-tied and secured to the chairs, before Tommy removed their blindfolds.

 

Pippa blinked, then looked at us and said “Uscrdthlftfm.”

 

“Well, this is a kidnapping,” I said with a smile, “and therefore, you have to do as we say.”

 

“Starting with a video message to your parents,” Eddie said “but only after lunch.”

 

Hazel and Claire were looking round the cellar as well, then at the seven girls on the beds.  Hddssgnnhrtu,” Hazel said as she looked at me, but at least she wasn’t crying.

 

“I’ll deal with that later,” I said as I looked at them. “Right now, I need to see where your lunch has gone to.”

 

I went to the top of the stairs, closed the door, put my head back against it and took several deep breaths, before I shouted out “YES!!!  WE DID IT!!!”

 

“Hey,” Dad said as he went by with Mr Boyle, carrying a step ladder between them.  “Well done, but keep it down, all right?”

 

“Sorry,” I whispered, “but I didn’t think we would actually manage to do it!”

 

“You’re a lot smarter than you think you are,” Dad said with a smile.  “The food will be down in a little while – can you give me a hand with these decorations for later?”

 

 

An hour or so later, I went back down to see the twelve bound and gagged captives trying to talk to each other.   “Lunch will be along soon,” I said as I sat at the table, “We thank you for your patience.”

 

thstsffn, wentgngngnwhr,” Mary said as she looked at me, before the two masked servers came back down and placed plates of sandwiches and juice cartons on the table, then left just as silently.

 

“Who are they,” Eddie said as Angela started to untie Suzie, the others watching.

 

“I have no idea,” I whispered as I turned my back to the others, “I hope they’re Mister and Mrs Boyle, in all truth.”

 

“Hey girls,” Suzie said as the cloth was removed from her mouth, and she was able to use her hands, “Welcome to our captivity.”

 

Whtsbngngg,” Pippa said as she watched Cassie being next to have her arms untied and her gag removed, although she and Suzie were still tied to the bed at their ankles.

 

“They started yesterday,” Cassie said as she winked at me, “Snatched each of us in turn, then brought us here, and they won’t tell us for how long.”

 

“Yeah I was first, then Cassie.”

 

“And a very good job they did of it as well,” Angela said as she smiled at me.  “They managed to capture each of you, on your own, with no warning whatsoever – well done.”

 

Mary and Cathy were looking at Jenny and Alicia, Jenny rolling her eyes as Alicia was finally able to talk.  “Yeah, I was shocked and angry as well,” she said as she rubbed her wrists, “but after a while, I had to admit – they pulled it off remarkable well.  Snatching each of us at home – well, at someone’s home – and then bringing us to where ever here is.”

 

“I still want to kill them though,” Jenny said as she was finally released, and Angela came over to the chairs.  “So what about you lot – where were you?”

 

“Ask my ever loving brother,” Mary said as she was finally ungagged, and stared at Eddie.  “There I was, getting ready to do my yoga, and wham bam these two masked – I was going to say cretins – came in, bound and gagged me, and hustled me out of…”

 

A dawn of light appeared in Mary’s eyes, as she looked at Alicia and Jenny.  “Hang on – you were here when we were brought in, which means….”

 

“Before lunch yesterday for me, sometime after for Jenny,” Alicia said, and then she started laughing.  “All right, all right, I admit it – I’m enjoying it now, but then?”

 

“Well,” Cathy finally said as she shook her head, “I just hope you’re ready to explain to my mother what happened.  She must be worried sick – do any of the parents know?”

 

“We had to film a ransom video, which they said they sent on,” Cassie said as she winked at me.  “I guess you guys have to do the same thing.”

 

“”eddntttmmswthm,” Pippa said as she watched her friends being untied.

 

“Yeah – Mrs Brooks did kinda walk in on us at her house,” Colin said as he rubbed his head.

 

The others looked at Pippa as she nodded, and Jenny said “Oh dear – someone’s going to have to do some explaining to his father as well as ours.”

 

“Mum was scared witless,” Pippa finally said, “but…”

 

The others looked at her again, as she said “It was one heck of a rush being snatched that way.  Can we do it again some time?”

 

“Enough,” Angela said firmly, “Eat, drink.”

 

“So what have you been doing down here since yesterday,” Claire asked Cassie as she bit into a cheese sandwich.

 

“Eating, sleeping, watching them do things – truthfully, it’s a bit boring being a real hostage.  We’ve been tied to chairs or the beds virtually the whole time.”

 

“All the time?  No games, no jumping around, no singing?”

 

“Nope,” Suzie said brightly, “not allowed to by our captors – and how much longer are we going to have to stay wherever here is?”

 

“You don’t know?”

 

“We were all blindfolded when we were brought here – I’ve never seen this place before.  I know it’s not the cellar of the place we had that day summer last year.”

 

“And just why have we been captured as well,” Mary said as she looked at me.  I could see she was avoiding Eddie’s eye, so when he walked behind her and tickled her sides, saying “so that I had a chance to tickle you, Mary Holmes,” the explosion of laughter broke whatever tension there was left in the room.

 

After that, the meal passed peacefully enough, as they talked about their holidays, and what they had each got for Christmas.  Eventually, however, Angela and Eddie said “Right – toilet, and then back to your captivity while we deliver the last ransom messages.”

 

“You’re first, Mary – make it good,” Eddie said as he picked up the camera and filmed Mary, while poor Suzie was re-gagged, released from the bed and allowed to go to the toilet by Angela.

 

“Mum, Dad, I’ve been kidnapped by some very dangerous people,” she said as she looked at Eddie, while Tommy walked behind her chair, his grin huge as he held a cloth and a knotted strip of towel in his hands.

 

“Please, do whatever they say, because I’m all right now, but nnmmmmgggg,” was all she said as the cloth was pushed into her mouth, and the strip tied between her teeth.  Eddie worked his way down the line, while Colin, Martin and Brian made sure the returning bound captives had their legs re-tied and secured to the camp beds.

 

Once all seven of them were in place, I untied Mary and she went to the bathroom, mumbling dark thoughts as Eddie finished filming Pippa.  It took a little while for the final five to be secured, facing the beds in their chairs, as we sat round the table, Eddie putting on Radio 3 as Cathy and Alicia hummed along, and the others just looked round.

 

The game of cards lasted for about an hour and a half, before I looked at my watch and saw what time it was.  I looked over at Angela, who nodded as she said “Right – it’s time we started to move these little ladies out.  You first,” she said as she walked over to Suzie, and untied her legs, then helped her to stand up before she removed the bands of rope from above and below her chest.

 

I walked over, the others watching and calling to Suzie as I tied a thick white scarf over her eyes.

 

Whrrutknghr,” Cassie called out as I started to walk Suzie to the stairs.

 

“Don’t worry – you’ll find out soon enough,” I said as I helped her to climb up the stairs, out of the cellar and up the large staircase, before I took her into the bathroom and closed the door.

 

“Don’t move,” was my only instructions as I untied her arms and removed the covering from her hands, and then removed the gag from her mouth.  Once I had removed the blindfold, Suzie blinked, looked round and said “What’s going on Bobby?”

 

“My instructions are clear – bring you to this room, and order you to have a shower, put on the bathrobe that is there, and then tell you that you are to step outside.  You’ll find out what happens then later.”  With that, I left the bathroom, closed the door, turned round – and nearly ran into Grandmother’s chest.

 

“Hello Robert,” she said as she smiled at me, “I believe the three of you managed to complete your task.  Very well done indeed.”

 

“Thanks,” I said with a sheepish smile, “so what happens now?”

 

“You go downstairs, and then take – I believe it is Cassie next – to the downstairs bathroom.  Follow the sequence, and leave the rest to us.”   She smiled as Mrs Boyle and Mrs Bridges came into view, both of them wearing black short sleeved dresses with flat shoes.

 

“Right – oh, and Mrs Brooks?”

 

“Your grandfather managed to calm her down – now, scoot!”

 

I ran down the stairs with a big smile on my face, and then back into the cellar.

 

“Safely delivered,” Angela said as she looked at me.

 

“Oh yes – next in ten minutes,” I said as I looked at my watch.  I then returned to the game of cards, as Angela went over and started to untie Cassie from her bed, releasing her legs before she stood up.  Her eyes were fixed on me as Angela untied her upper arms, and then tied a white scarf over her eyes.

 

“Take her next,” she said as she looked at me, so I took Cassie’s arm, helped her out of the cellar, and then into the downstairs bathroom.  As I slowly untied her arms, she started twisting around, saying “whtruggngtdwfmufnd.”

 

“You’ll see, Cassandra Paulette Craig,” I cackled as I finally freed her arms, and removed the covering from her hands.  Cutting the tape away, I removed the wet towelling and cloth, and then said “close your eyes.”

 

“All right, but please don’t hurt me,” Suzie said as I removed the blindfold, and put it with the other materials in the white plastic bag.

 

“Right – you may open your eyes now.”

 

Suzie opened her eyes, blinking as they adjusted to the bathroom light, and then looked round.

 

“Hang on,” she said slowly, my smile at her confusion growing.  “We…  We’ve been at Wissenden the whole time?”

 

“No comment,” I said as I walked to the door.  “You are to shower, dry yourself off, and then put on the bathrobe at the back of the door before you leave this room.  After that, you will be directed as to what to do.”

 

“Bobby?”

 

I stopped and turned round, expecting to get a kick in the shins, but instead Cassie put her arms round my neck and gave me a little kiss on the cheek.  “You know I can’t stay mad at you,” she said quietly, “but Jenny…”

 

“It’s Alicia I’m more worried about,” I said with a smile as I left her to the shower, and went back downstairs, where Angela had young Rachel ready for collection. 

 

“Walk this way,” I said as I put her glasses in my pocket, and took her out of the cellar, heading up the stairs and to the bathroom.  As I came up, I caught a glimpse of Suzie disappearing into her bedroom, and her quiet way of saying “oh my…” before I took Rachel in and started to untie her.

 

As she looked round the bathroom, she said “Where am I?”

 

“You’ll find out soon enough – shower, put on the robe, put these on,” I said as I put her glasses next to the sink, “and then step outside.”  I smiled as I went out and closed the door, joining Mrs Boyle as she walked down the stairs.

 

“Thanks for your help, by the way, bringing the meals down yesterday and today,” I said as she stopped at the downstairs bathroom.

 

“Not me,” she said with a smile, “Mister Boyle and I have been too busy setting things up for tonight.  Have you looked in the main room?”

 

I glanced in, seeing the decorations in both there and the dining room, before I headed back down and took Alicia’s arm, guiding her up as I saw Mrs Boyle take Suzie upstairs.

 

“So where am I now…”  As I removed the blindfold from the free and ungagged Alicia, she looked slowly round, and then at me.  “All this time,” she said quietly, “All this time, and we’ve been here?”

 

“Surprise,” I said, and then gave my instructions, leaving before she could throw something at me.

 

Lisa was next, and as I took her upstairs I caught a glimpse of a white bathrobe going into one room, and pink taffeta disappearing into another.  As I removed her blindfold, she blinked and looked round,

 

“Hang on,” she whispered, before I told her to shower and then put on the robe, and stepped out.  When I returned to the cellar, Patty was waiting, and I saw that Colin was waiting to escort Jenny to the bathroom when she was released.

 

“Your colleague has gone to collect some ransoms,” Eddie said in answer to my unasked question of where Martin had got to, and I realised that once all this was done, I had to get ready as well.  So upstairs Patty went, struggling in my grip as we walked up to the downstairs bathroom, and I let her in.

 

She blinked as she looked round, rubbing her arms as she said “Very posh dungeon you have here.”

 

“Just shower and then go out,” I said with a smile as I walked out, and passed Colin with Jenny on the stairs.  As they headed up to the top floor, I walked back down as Eddie untied Mary from the chair, and Angela removed the extra chest ropes.

 

Whrrhftthlggn,” she said as I helped her to walk up the stairs, and then across the marble hall, and into the downstairs bathroom.

 

“You’ll see soon enough,” I said as I untied her, removed her gag, and then removed her blindfold.  She blinked, and then her jaw dropped.

 

“You sneaky little bu…”

 

“Language, Mary.”

 

“Yeah, but – you held them down in the cellar of your home all day, all night and all day again?  Bobby, how the hell are you going to explain this to our parents?”

 

“Hopefully, my grandfather has,” I said quietly, “now have a shower and clean yourself up – someone will tell you what to do after that.”

 

“I think Jenny may just about have forgiven me,” Colin said as he passed me, escorting Pippa up the staircase.  The smile on his face had told me that much, as I went down to bring Claire up.  She was waiting, wriggling in Angela’s hands as I took her arm and walked her up, taking her into the empty downstairs bathroom.  She too was surprised to find out where we were, as was Pippa as she became the last one to be released.

 

“But…  But…”

 

“Yes, I know,” I said as I looked at her.  “Right, shower, robe on, and then go out – all will be explained.”

 

Closing the door behind me, I saw Grandfather and Dad looking at me, an amused expression on their faces.  They were already wearing their dinner jackets, trousers and white shirts, with their bow ties in place.

 

“Exhausted?”

 

“Not really,” I said in answer to Dad’s question.

 

“Just as well,” Grandfather said as he looked at his watch.  “You need to go and shower and change as well.  When you are done, you are to knock on the door of Suzie’s room and wait to be admitted.”

 

Well, that was what I needed to hear, as I headed up the stairs and into the bathroom.  A shower was what I needed right now to calm my nerves.

 

 

 

Half an hour later, I was adjusting my bowtie, looking in the mirror as Martin tied his shoes on.

 

“I have to go and check on Alicia and Jenny in a few minutes,” he said as Colin came in, drying his hair off as he headed for the other camp bed, his suit laid out.  “Colin?”

 

“I get the terrible duo and the twins.  I guess you get your sister and the other three, right Bobby?”

 

“Yup,” I said as I slipped on my jacket, and looked at them, “Time, as they say, to face the music.  I’ll see you all in a few minutes.”

 

I left them to finish getting dressed, walked across the corridor and knocked on the door.  Mrs Bridges opened it, and I walked in, suppressing a cry of “Oh wow” as I looked at the four girls standing there.

 

“Hello, Bobby,” Cassie said as she stood, her hands behind her back as she turned slightly from side to side.  She was wearing a beautiful bubblegum pink ball gown, glittering with sequins and held up by two shoulder straps.  A pair of matching elbow length gloves were on her arms, while a pink shrug covered her shoulders.  Her hair was held back by a silver tiara, while the flowing skirt came to just below the floor.

 

Had I not been so taken by the sight, I would have seen my sister standing next to her.  She was wearing a ballgown in a darker shade of pink, the bodice and shoulder straps studded with little diamante pieces, and the taffeta skirt flowing from her waist to the floor.  She also has matching elbow length gloves on, and a throw in the same colour over her shoulders.

 

“Close that mouth, Bobby,” Suzie said with a smile, “you don’t have to lie any more.  Who brought us our gowns?”

 

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Lisa said from her seat on the bed.  Her gown was white, with short sleeves and a little v-necked front.  The bodice  had little white roses to one side, and buttoned up the back, while the skirt flowed and swirled from there to the floor.  As with the other two, she wore matching elbow length gloves, and a shrug covered her shoulders.

 

Finally there was Pippa, looking a little uncomfortable in a dark red floor length gown with no sleeves, but again matching elbow length gloves and a shawl draped over her shoulders.  The waist of her gown had  mock belt and silver clasp, the skirt gathered slightly at that point, while her hair was held back by a silver clasp.  All four were made up and looked -  well stunning, I presumed with the help of Mrs Bridges.

 

“I am to escort you, with Master Robert, to the library,” Mrs Bridges said, “If you will follow me.”

 

I held the door open for them, seeing Colin looking nervous as he knocked on a bedroom door, and then went in.  Mrs Bridges led the way and I brought up the rear as we went down the quiet staircase, and into the library through the rear door.  A row of chairs was set out along the window, as I helped the four girls to sit down.

 

As I stood by the wall, the door opened again and I saw Mrs Boyle come in, followed by the four older girls and Martin.  Jenny smiled as she walked in, the black skirt of her gown brushing over the floor as she walked.

 

It had blue peacock feathers picked out on the black silk, the same light blue colour on her gathered upper skirt and bodice.  A matching silk bolero jacket covered her shoulders, while she also had elbow length gloves on.

 

“I see a theme developing,” she said as she took a seat, and Mary came in.  She was wearing a pale blue gown, with silk cap sleeves covering her shoulders, and matching gloves.  The skirt flowed straight out from her bodice, while a floral line went down her front and then split to form the hem of a second layer on her skirt.

 

Cathy came next, smiling shyly as she walked in.  She was wearing a strapless green silk ballgown, with a matching wrap and yes – elbow length gloves.  Her upper bodice had a silver gleam, as the skirt ballooned out and glided over the floor.

 

Finally was my darling cousin Alicia, on the arm of Martin.  She also had a strapless ball gown on, with a matching bolero jacket and gloves.  Hers had a silver fern pattern over the bodice and underskirt, while the slightly darker over skirt, jacket and gloves were plain.  The over skirt had a rose at the point it was gathered at her waist.

 

“I forgive you now,” she whispered as Martin helped her to sit down, and joined me.

 

“You do know we have an incredibly nasty habit of getting tied up and gagged when we wear formal dresses,” Cassie said as she looked at me, “is this one of those times?”

 

I honestly did not know, as the door opened again and Angela came in.  She silenced both me and Martin, as Suzie said “Wow” at her outfit.

 

It had a dark pink strapless top, which then went into a silver bodice with a diamond clasp at her chest.  That bodice then exploded into a pink layered skirt, with light pink and black chiffon over skirt.  A dark pink bolero jacket and opera gloves completed her outfit.

 

I made a mental note to myself – stop sounding like the inside pages of the Sunday supplement, but as the younger girls came in that became more difficult.

 

Patty was wearing a crimson red ball gown, again with a diamante pattern on the shoulder straps and bodice.  Her skirt really did touch the floor, as her gloves nearly came up to the silk shawl around her shoulders.

 

Then there was Rachel, in a grey silk dress similar to Lisa’s.  Two differences – it was semi backless, with the shoulder straps going down to the bodice, and a grey sash effect went round her waist.  She wore a grey scarf around her neck and long gloves.

 

Then there were the twins – for once not dressed identically.  Hazel had a royal blue backless gown on, the straps fastened around her neck, with a patterned front and a skirt with several layers.  Her shrug was over her gloved arm.

 

Claire’s gown was a more traditional design, with the skirt gathered at the front, but in the same shade in blue.  She wore her shrug over her shoulders, but both of them had their hair held bu by a little tiara.

 

“Well, everyone’s here now,” Mary said as Claire took her seat, and Eddie walked in, adjusting his bow tie.  He took one look at Angela, and said “Wow” before her came over to join us.  “So, Bobby, are you finally going to tell us why you kidnapped us over the last two days and held us hostage like that?”

 

“Well,” I said quietly, but my confession was interrupted by Mister Bridges and Mister Boyle opening the door, and some others joining us.

 

First was my grandparents, Grandmother resplendent in a yellow silk floor length gown, a cropped jacket covering her shoulders and sleeves.

 

Then Mum and Dad came in, Mum smiling as she wore a red velvet strapless gown with a shrug over her shoulders.

 

“What’s going on here,” Suzie said as she looked at me, but then I heard Cassie call out “Mum?  Dad?”

 

I watched as Mister and Mrs Craig came in, smiling at everyone.  Mrs Craig had on a cream silk gown, that came to the floor, and a matching jacket.

 

“Well, I think everyone is here now,” Granddad said as he stood in front of the closed dividing doors to the front room, Mister Bridges and Mister Boyle standing on each side of those doors.

 

“Grandpa,” Suzie said as Jenny and Cassie looked at their parents, “What’s going on?”

 

“You know, Suzanne, I’m glad you asked that question,” Grandfather said quietly, “but first of all, I wanted to say thank you to Bobby, Colin and Martin, for inviting you all to come here and join us tonight.”

 

“You knew?”

 

“Of course we knew, Alicia dear,” Grandmother said with a smile, “We told them to gather you here in this way.”

 

 

“It was your idea?”

 

“Actually,” Mister Craig said as he looked at Cassie and Jenny, “all three of us had the idea.  Alexander?”

 

“Cassie, Suzie,” Dad said as he walked forward, and took the hands of both of them, helping them to stand up, “its being quite a year, hasn’t it?  And a lot has happened, and a lot has changed – for all of you.  We also felt that – well, we haven’t really given our new home a proper christening.”

 

“So we devised this little plan,” Mister Craig said.  “The boys were charged with kidnapping you, one by one, and bringing you here.”

 

“YOU KNEW,” Cassie screamed as she looked at Suzie, the others turning as well.

 

“Err – I knew we were here, but my kidnapping was just as much a surprise to me as it was to you.  I just didn’t get the van ride.”

 

“Oh – then I forgive you,” Cassie said, as the others laughed.

 

“As I was saying,” Mister Craig continued, “we charged the boys with bringing you here.  And before you say anything – Lord and Lady Holderness spoke to each of your parents as soon as you were taken, and explained what had happened.”

 

Patty and Pippa looked at each other.  “Mum is still going to kill you,” Pippa said as she looked at me and Colin.

 

“I’m going to kill him,” Patty said.  “Mum must have known – and then you played me!”

 

“They played all of us,” Alicia said as she burst out laughing.  “Still, they are going to want to talk to you about scaring them half to death.”

 

“Fair point,” Grandfather said as he stood to one side, “why don’t we ask them?”

 

On cue, Mister Bridges and Mister Boyle opened the dividing doors, and the girls gasped as they saw their parents and family standing there.

 

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY CASSIE!!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZIE!!” they called out and then there was a huge round of applause.

 

I looked at Cassie, who was absolutely gobsmacked, and then at Suzie, who was staring at something else – the huge teddy bear that Charlie Williamson was standing beside.  He was looking at all of them, in his smart suit, shirt and tie, and then looked at me.

 

“You, Bobby Holderness,” he said as he walked up to me, “owe me for that yesterday.”

 

“You didn’t know,” Lisa said before she ran up and hugged her mum and dad.

 

“No I didn’t – I get the feeling I got left out of a lot these last few days.”

 

“Anyway,” Grandfather said with a smile, “after Lucinda and I talked to your parents, they agreed to bring your gowns over so that you could change before joining the party.  So, don’t just sit there – go and have fun!”

 

I watched as Cathy moved like greased lightning, running up and hugging her mothers as they embraced her.  “You gave me quite a scare, young lady,” her mum said as she looked at me, and shook her head.

 

“Don’t feel too bad, Bobby,” Mister Craig said as he put his hand on my shoulder, and looked at the others joining their families, “You did what you were asked to do, and we’re not going to hold it against you.”

 

“Really,” I said as I saw Tommy with my aunt and uncle, and Colin’s father beckoning him over with his finger as Brian stood with him, “tell that to Pippa’s mum.”

 

Pippa, Rachel and Clare had gone to join their parents, and were chatting about the events of the day, as I heard Suzie say “WOW!  Thanks, Charlie and Lisa – I don’t know where he’s going to go though?”

 

“I thought the playhouse,” Lisa said as she hugged the large brown bear, “just for when you want him.”

 

Suzie smiled and hugged both of them, as Grandmother said “There is food in the dining hall, and when everyone has eaten we can have some music and games there.”

 

“I don’t get it,” Alicia said as she walked up to me, “this was all to throw a surprise party for all of us?”

 

“Essentially, yes,” Angela said as she came and joined us.  “I got roped in at a late stage, when young Robert here realised what you lot might be like, but the plan was always to surprise you all – and those two especially.”

 

We looked at Cassie and Suzie, who were standing in the centre of the room, accepting presents from the like of Mr and Mrs Irvine, Martin’s parents and Mrs Brooks.

 

“Come on then,” Alicia said as she took my arm, “you can escort me to the dining room.  I am starving – sandwiches, variety boxes and fried chicken don’t fill me up that much.”

 

 

We walked through the room and out into the hallway, with the candles throwing their light from their holders in the walls, and into the dining room, where the Mrs Boyle and Bridges had laid out a huge feast for all of us.  Patty and Rachel were already there with Tommy, putting stuff on their plates before they went into a corner and sat down, talking excitedly about what had happened. 

 

“Hey – am I forgiven now?”

 

We turned to see Martin standing behind us, his hands behind his back and a grin on his face as he looked at Alicia.  She smiled and said “I suppose so – come on, get me some food.”

 

Mum came in with Aunt Anne and Grandmother, smiling as she chatted with them and the party came in one by one.  As they stood around in small groups, I felt a pair of gloved arms round my waist, and turned to see Cassie standing there.

 

“All right, Robert,” she said as she looked at me sternly, “Just where did we spend the last two days?”

 

“Well, since you asked so nicely,” I said with a smile, “Come with me – and you may wish to lift your skirt up.”

 

I took her to the door that led to the cellar, opened it, switched on the light and walked down in front of her, waiting at the bottom as she looked round.

 

“I never knew this was down here,” she said quietly, and then looked at me.  “If Jay Edwards had known…”

 

“I don’t think he would have used it – from what you say of him, it’s not his style,” I said quietly.  “Still, it really made you lot wonder, didn’t it?”

 

“Yeah, it did – and I owe Suzie for that as well,” Cassie said with a smile.  “Come on – let’s go back up to the party.”

 

We got back up and rejoined the others, Rachel sitting in a corner with Charlie, Mary and Cathy talking with Alicia and Jenny, and others all around.  It actually looked funny in one respect – Cassie was right that the last time the all got dressed up, they were also bound and gagged.

 

 

“Enjoying yourself Bobby?”

 

I turned to see Mum standing there with my two grandmothers.  Granny Jacobs had on a black dress with a high collar, and a short jacket.

 

“Yes, thank you,” I said quietly, “and thank you grandmother, for squaring things with the other parents.”

 

“Yes,” Grandmother said with a smile as Cassie’s grandmother came over to join us, “I had a particularly interesting conversation with young Pippa’s mother.”

 

“I can imagine, from what I just heard,” Mrs Craig said to me.  “But she seems happy enough now.”

 

“Mum,” I said as I looked at her, “who brought the food down?  I thought it was Mrs Boyle, but she said it wasn’t her, and the woman was taller than you.”

 

“Some of us,” Grandmother said as she drew herself up to her full height, “are still capable of acting a part, young man.”

 

I looked at her, then over at Grandfather as he stood with Charlie’s dad and Colin’s father, and then realised what I should have realised at the start.

 

“Oh,” I said quietly, “Sorry.”

 

“All right then,” Dad said as everyone looked at him, “We have some games in the main room, and then music in here, so feel free to mingle round and…”

 

The rush of Patty, Rachel, Hazel, Claire, Pippa, Suzie, Lisa and Cassie running into the main room nearly knocked me off my feet, never mind Mum.  “I think they want to play,” she said as she went off and talked to some of the other guests.

 

“A word, young master Holderness, if we may.”

 

 

I was about to follow the girls in when my arms were taken on both sides, and I was walked back into the library.  It took me a moment to realise Cassie Craig senior had my left arm, dressed in an olive green sleeveless dress, and on the other side Jo Frost, wearing a grey silk trouser suit and a white blouse with a string bow around her neck.

 

The library had been turned, after we had left, into a temporary nursery.  Andy and Danny were crawling around in a playpen, while Mister and Mrs Craig were feeding David and June as they sat in high chairs.

 

Connie Craig, Cassie’s other aunt, was there with her husband Dave, while Uncle Simon and Aunt Anne were sat in two of the chairs as well.

 

“Ah there you are,” Uncle Simon said as Jo closed the door, “the demon nabber of Holderness town, as I live and breathe.”

 

Yeahhhhh,” I said as I looked at them, “As I’m sure you heard, we were challenged to do it…”

 

“In as realistic a manner as possible, individually, and without getting caught,” Mister Craig said as he stood up, “only you were caught, weren’t you?  By Jackie Brooks, as I hear it – and one of you had to threaten her?”

 

“Ah,” I said quietly, “Yeah, about that…”

 

“What about it?” 

 

I turned to see that Pippa’s mother had come in, her arms folded as she looked at me through her glasses.  Her robe was dark blue, with a square neckline, and came to just above her black leather shod feet.

 

“The last time I was that scared,” she said as she walked towards me, “was when that gang broke in and tied all of us up, the night Cassie was so brave.  I had hoped that sort of thing would never, ever happen again – and then it did.  Who was it?”

 

“Who was it who…”

 

“Who was it that held Pippa, and who was it that threatened me?  I know it was one of you three, so you might as well tell me now.”

 

I swallowed hard, and looked at Mister Craig, as one of the planners.  “Better own up now, Bobby,” he said as he looked at me sternly.

 

“All right,” I said quietly, “It was Colin, but we’re really sorry if we scared or upset you Mrs Brooks?”

 

“Scared me?  Upset me?  Would you really like to know what I want to do to you now, Robert Holderness?”

 

“Not really,” I said quietly, “but I’m ready for it.”  I closed my eyes, expecting to get the tongue lashing of my life - only to feel Mrs Brooks’ hands on my cheeks, and a kiss from her on my forehead.

 

As I opened my eyes, I heard everyone else in the room laughing – even David and June were looking at me and gurgling away.

 

“Oh my,” Uncle Simon said as he looked at me, “if we could have got a picture of your face right now.”

 

“Did I ever tell you Jackie was one of the best actresses at school,” Aunt Anne said as she shook her head.  “She really spun one on you boys – twice.”

 

“Hang on,” I said quietly, “You knew it was us?”

 

“Bobby,” Mister Craig said as he stood up, “I hate to burst your bubble a little, but they all knew.  How on earth do you think you managed to get away with it reasonably easily?”

 

I think my jaw must have hit the floor when I realised what he was saying, and thought back over the last couple of days.  The text Patty’s mother got from Rachel’s mother…  Lisa’s dad working downstairs, and then calling Charlie in…  Cassie’s dad being up in the attic, and her mother and aunt out… Cathy doing an order for Mum… Hazel being sent out with Claire’s coat…

 

“So all the parents deliberately stayed out of the way,” I finally said.

 

“Except for me,” Mrs Brooks said, “I volunteered to give you both a scare.”

 

“But how did you know we were coming and when?”

 

“We had a man on the inside,” Uncle Simon said as he picked up Andy.  I looked at him, and then said “No – not…”

 

“Yup – Mister Bridges texted each of us as you were coming, so that we would be – otherwise occupied.   Honestly, if I had heard Cassie screaming the way she did as you carried her out, I would have run out in a shot.”

 

Now it was my turn to sit down and look round.  “So we failed?”

 

“No – you succeeded.  It’s just we had to know, so certain things could be brought here.  So well done – but next time…”

 

“Oh no – no next time!”

 

“Never say never,” Aunt Anne said as she stood up.  “Right – you can go and see how the birthday girls are doing.”

 

“Before you go, however,” Uncle Simon and Mister Craig said, “we have one more task for you boys to perform…”

 

 

A few minutes later, I pulled Martin, Colin, Charlie, Tommy and Brian into the cellar, and had a quick word with them.  As we emerged a few minutes later, we all had huge smiles on our faces as we re-joined the others in time for Dad to say something.

 

“Thanks to all of you for coming and making our first big party here a great success,” he said as we each took a glass of orange juice and lemonade.  “Please, join me in a toast to Cassie and Suzie!”

 

“Cassie and Suzie,” we all said as we raised our glasses to two very embarrassed young women, as the music started to play in the dining hall.  We watched as the girls went in, and then stood at the side of the room, watching them dance for half an hour, before I nodded to Charlie and the three of us slipped out…

 

 

From the door to the kitchen, I could see Charlie talking to Suzie.

 

“Hey Suzie – do you like your present?”

 

“You bet I do Charlie – it’s a great party, isn’t it?”

 

“Yeah – pity we have to leave early.  Look, can you come with me for a minute – I’ve got a surprise for you.”

 

“Another surprise?  All right – where do we need to go?”

 

“Just in here,” Charlie said as he took Suzie by the arm and led her towards the small room.  As they walked in, Suzie saw the three of us, in blue boiler suits and wearing masks, she only had time to say “Oh no…” before Martin tied a white scarf over her eyes, and Colin secured her wrists behind her back with a plastic zip tie over her gloves.

 

“Not a word,” we said as we frog marched her to the cellar, where Angela was waiting.  Before Suzie had a chance to say anything, we gently pushed a folded cloth into her mouth, and then tied a knotted length of towel between her lips, before winding special dark pink tape round her mouth to seal the gag.  Grandfather had borrowed some from Cassie’s coloured supply.

 

Whtssgngn,” Suzie said as Martin pushed a sponge into her gloved hand, and made a fist with it before taping it over with the crimson tape, then passing it to Colin to secure her other hand.  I then cut the zip tie away, allowing Colin to bind her wrists tightly together and then to her back, before Angela stepped in to add the extra chest ropes.

 

She stayed silent through all this, as we then marched Suzie back up to the hallway.  Dad was telling some sort of story, as we took Suzie up to her room, and then sat her on a chair. 

 

I knelt down and tied her ankles and knees together, before securing her ankles to the front leg of the chair, while Colin tied her lap to the chair and Martin her waist.

 

Removing my mask, I took off Suzie’s blindfold and said “Sorry sis – I have my orders.  I’ll say good bye to the girls for you.”

 

Suzie said nothing, just following us with her eyes as we left her in the room, and then sneaked back to the cellar. 

 

We barely had time to get behind the door, and grab a zip tie and a scarf, before we heard Lisa call out “Suzie?  I need to go in a few minutes, I wanted to say thank you.”

 

As she walked past the cellar door, I reached out and pulled her in, hand gagging her as Martin and Colin secured her wrists and covered her eyes.

 

“Oh great, am I being kidnapped again?”  She said as we carefully walked her down the stairs, and then gagged her before securing her arms as we had Suzie.  Dnttllmmmsteennglths,” Lisa called out as Angela tied her arms tightly to her side, sitting under and over her chest.

 

“No, you’re not staying tonight,” I said as I sat her down, while Martin tied he rankles and her legs.  “We’re just getting you ready to get home.  Have you had fun?”

 

Hhhysss,” Lisa said as she nodded her head, and we carried her up the stairs, Martin opening the doors as we took her outside, sat her in the back seat of a car we had been told to use, and then strapped her in.

 

“See you soon,” I said as we closed the door, went back in, and closed the door before slipping out of the boiler suits and masks.

 

“Hello Mister Williamson,” I said as I joined Charlie with his parents, “Dad said to tell you your car is ready to go.”

 

“Why thank you Bobby,” Mister Williamson said with a smile, “I trust everything is in place?”

 

“Exactly as requested sir,” I said as I saw Colin and Martin talking to Jenny and Alicia.

 

“I’d better find Lisa,” Charlie said, before his mother stopped him and said “Don’t worry – she’ll be waiting for us.”  I smiled and showed them to the front door, waving them off as they drove away.

 

“Where’s Lisa gone,” Jenny said as I walked over.

 

“Oh she just left with her parents – she was saying goodbye to Suzie, and she said she’d see you tomorrow.”

 

“Fair enough,” Jenny said as she walked over to join her parents, and I nodded to Tommy before the three of us walked off.

 

We barely had time to slip into our boiler suits and masks before we heard Patty say “What do you mean, Suzie has a surprise for me?”

 

“I mean she’s got something special for you,” Tommy said as we watched the door to the cellar open, and Patty stepped in.  “OH god, not again,” was what she said when she saw me standing there, and then was powerless to stop me removing her glasses and the blindfold being applied, along with the zip tie.

 

Walking her downstairs, I said “It’s been a pleasure having you stay, Patty, but the ransom is paid, and it’s time to go home.”  That helped her to calm down as the ropes were tied round her, and a lovely band of red tape went around her head.

 

Martin threw her over his shoulder and carried her back up, while Colin and I changed and slipped back into the main room.  I could see her mother talking to Cassie’s mother, so I walked over and said “Mrs Pickering, Dad told me you had to leave in a few minutes, so I’ve come to tell you that your car is ready.”

 

“Why thank you, Bobby,” she said with a smile as she hugged Mrs Craig.  “I’ll see you on Monday.”  As she walked off, I handed her Patty’s glasses, saying “I found these in the dining room – she must have dropped them there.”

 

“Ah yes – thank you,” Mrs Pickering said with a smile as she collected her coat and left the party.

 

“Actually,” Mrs Craig said as she looked at her watch, “I think we may need to leave soon as well.  I have to take the girls for a fitting in the morning before they come here.  Bobby, would you be a dear and make sure they’re waiting for both of us while we say goodbye?”

 

“It would be a pleasure.” I said with a smile as I looked for them.  Jenny was standing with Mary and Cathy, sipping from a glass, and Cassie?”

 

“Hey – have you seen Suzie anywhere?”

 

I turned to see Cassie standing next to me, smiling as she looked up at me.

 

“Yeah – she went to have a lie down,” I said quietly, “I was going to find Jenny and take you both to her to say goodbye, if you wanted?”

 

“Good idea – I think Granny’s getting tired,” Cassie said as she looked over at Mrs Craig.  I didn’t think she was getting tired – she was chatting with my grandmothers quite happily – but I let it pass as I watched Cassie go and fetch her sister.

 

“She’s upstairs,” I said as we walked out, Jenny and Cassie’s skirts rustling as we walked out, and then I said “Can you give me a minute?  I need to get something from the basement first.”

 

“Sure,” they said as I walked past the bathroom – only to stop as I heard their muffled gasps while Colin and Martin pulled them both inside.  I stood by the door, smiling at Mister and Mrs Rigg as they walked past, and then opened the door as they were led, blindfolded and zip tied, to the cellar door.

 

“I might have guessed it would end up like this,” Jenny said before Colin gagged her, and I performed the same service for Cassie, before Angela got to work.  “May I just say,” I continued while I was taping over Cassie’s fists, “how truly and magnificently beautiful you both looked tonight?”

 

Flltrrr,” Cassie mumbled through her pink tape gag, but she mumbled it in a way that indicated she was smiling underneath the band.  We soon had her legs secured, as I carried her up, and Colin escorted Jenny, Martin checking the coast was clear as we took them out to the car.

 

I sat Cassie in the back seat, and strapped her in, while Colin secured Jenny’s legs and then strapped her in.

 

“Very nice,” I heard a voice behind me say, and I turned round to see their grandmother standing there, her Aunt Cassie and Jo carrying the twins in their car seats.  “Thank you for taking such good care of them, Bobby,” she said for a smile as the twins were secured in, and then their parents came out.  Mister Craig shook our hands, and Mrs Craig hugged us, before we waved them off.

 

“Talking of twins,” Cassie said as we walked back in, “They’re next.  Have fun.”

 

Hazel and Claire were taken completely by surprise as well, as they went down to the cellar, were bound and gagged, and then carried out to the waiting car.  When we had them both strapped in the back seats, they were giggling away, trying to knock into each other as their parents came out.

 

“You know,” their mother said as she looked at them, “if it wasn’t for the fact they were so well dressed, I’d be tempted to let them both sleep like that.”

 

 

“YSSSPLSSMM,” they chorused out, but the remainder of that conversation was lost in the car moving off.

 

Our job wasn’t done yet – as I put on the boiler suit, Colin went out and found Pippa.  “Where have the others gone?” I heard her say on the other side of the door.

 

“I think they went down into the cellar – want me to go and have a look?”

 

“No – I’ll go down,” Pippa said, and then the door opened as she walked in.  She saw me and Martin standing there, and turned to see Colin blocking the door.

 

“Does Mum know this time,” she said as her wrists were taken behind her, the whiter plastic over her red gloves.

 

“We’re taking you home to her,” I said as we walked her down to Angela – and we were as true as our word.  Ten minutes later, she was sitting in the back of her mother’s car, unable to move or speak as we were thanked and they drove off.

 

Mary and Cathy were relatively straightforward – we caught them, bound them, and delivered them to their parents.  The only funny bit was when Cathy’s mother said to me “Next time you decide to do this, try not to pick a day when we are busy,” before she got into the car and then they drove off.  That left two – and both of them came with some small issues to deal with.

 

First, Rachel.  I found her looking upstairs for Suzie.

 

“Hey – have you seen everyone else,” she said as I walked up behind her.

 

“Well, most of the others have gone, I think – where are your parents?”

 

“Talking to your grandparents – I really wanted to thank Suzie for the last couple of days.”

 

“Yeah – she’s a bit tied up at the moment, but I can take you to her if you want. “

 

“Oh – where is she?”

 

“You’ll see,” I said, “or rather, you won’t.”  Rachel didn’t have time to reply before I tied the scarf over her eyes, secured her wrists, and then walked her quickly downstairs and into the cellar.

 

Ten minutes later Colin carried her out, and to the waiting car, as I met her parents in the hallway.

 

“Your grandfather tells me that your hostage has been returned safely,” Mrs Rigg said as she smiled at me.

 

“Indeed – you will find your car is ready to set off.  May I escort you to it?”

 

“Why thank you,” she said as I walked them out, and they saw Rachel sitting in the back, a grey band covering her mouth.

 

“Have you enjoyed the sleepover, Rachel,” her father said as he looked in.  Rachel turned her head and nodded, as her mother looked at the ropes.

 

“May I ask who tied the ropes?”

 

“My cousin Angela,” I said quietly, “we have strict rules on the matter.”

 

She nodded and then they both got into the front of the car and drove off.  As I walked back in, I caught a glimpse of Alicia being escorted down to the cellar, as Mum and Dad came out.

 

“Just Ali to go,” Mum said as she looked at me.

 

“Yeah – and then we say goodbye to the rest of the guests,” I said quietly.  “It’s been a good party.”

 

“It certainly has,” Dad said as he ruffled my hair, “but we need to clear up soon.  New Year, and then we have some houseguests for a few days.”

 

I nodded as the cellar door opened and Angela escorted Alicia out with Martin, taking her out of the front door as Uncle Simon and Aunt Anne came out of the main room.

 

“All ready to go,” Dad said as he hugged Aunt Anne.

 

“All ready – thanks for the weekend break,” Aunt Anne said as she held Andrew on her shoulder, his dribble falling on her shawl.  They left, as the door was closed by Martin.

 

“Right – I need to find my folks and make my goodbyes,” he said as he looked at me.  “We need to do this again some time.”

 

“Not in the near future, however – I need to get my nerve back,” I said as he went back into the main room, and Colin left with his family.

 

Half an hour later, as my grandparents left, I collapsed into a chair and let out a huge sigh.

 

“Something tells me you’re going to sleep well tonight,” Mum said as she looked at me.

 

“Yeah – I think so too, as will….”  I stood up suddenly and said “Excuse me,” as I ran up to Suzie’s bedroom.

 

She looked at me from the chair as I said “Everyone wanted to say thank you for the last couple of days, so I guess I get to say it on their behalf.  Ready to be freed?”

 

Suzie nodded as I started to untie her from the chair, sitting still save when she had to move a little to let me get to the ropes.  I made sure they were neatly coiled and put away, before she wriggled her freed fingers and waited for me to cut away the tape around her head.

 

I was worried when she said nothing, as I took the cloth from her mouth.  She sat still for a moment, looking at me, before she jumped up and gave me the biggest hug imaginable.

 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you Bobby,” she said as she held me, “You really are the best brother a girl could hope for.”

 

“I take it you’re happy then?”

 

“Ecstatic – and thanks for letting me play a little bit of a part.  I wanted so much to tell them where we were, but Angela was right – it’s much more fun being the only one who knew.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you’re glad – and Cassie and…”

 

“Oh Cassie loved it – but she’s not gonna tell you that.  She wants you to stew a while longer.  Right,” she said as she pushed me towards the door, “Out you go, and ask Mum to come up.  I want to get ready for bed.”

 

I allowed myself a little smile as she pushed me out of the door.  It really had been a good surprise party – even if I felt as if I wanted to sleep for a week.

 

This there was no chance of – not with Sarah and Brian arriving at the manor on Saturday.  That was going to be one hell of a party as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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