Surprise Visitor









Jenny and I had spent the most wonderful weekend with Suzie, Alicia and Heidi at their grandma’s place – great fun, with a lot of games and a lot of good food. We even got to dress as princesses and be held hostage for awhile. Mind you, Alicia did have a bit of a funny turn, but it all seemed to turn out all right in the end.

The best bit was when we went for a picnic, and we played blind man’s bluff, and – oh yeah, we got to walk there with our hands fixed behind our back and our mouths covered. Turns out Alicia really didn’t mind it, even though she did get a bit upset the night before. Funny that – I asked Suzie about it, and she said it was just something strange.

Anyway, when we finally got home there was an even better surprise waiting for us – April had called round to see us! We hadn’t seen her since she spent the night here when the men called, and she had gone away on holiday soon after. She looked a bit surprised when Jenny and I hopped in, but Mum explained that we had come clean about our games while she was away, so she seemed a bit happier after that,

When Dad had untied us and removed the tape from our mouths, we both gave April a great big hug, to say welcome home. She seemed genuinely glad to see us – so much so that she agreed to come round on Tuesday and keep an eye on us while Mum and Granny went shopping. I could not wait to introduce her to Suzie, Alicia and Heidi – I was sure she was going to love them, especially Suzie.

We got an even bigger surprise on Monday, when Dad opened a letter at the breakfast table.

“Oh,” he said as he looked at us over the sheet of paper, “I almost forgot. Your Aunt Connie is back, and she’s going to come and visit us on Thursday to show us the wedding photographs.”

“You didn’t say Aunt Connie was back, Granny,”

“I didn’t know either,” Granny said as she looked at us. “I thought she was coming back tomorrow. Is everything all right?”

“I think so,” Dad said as he passed the letter to Mum, “She was called back early by work.” Aunt Connie worked for a newspaper, as some sort of investigator. I didn’t have much of an idea what she did, but she had appeared on the television a couple of times.

“I guess we’ll find out on Thursday,” Mum said as she drank her morning drink. “Cassie, Jenny, you need to come with me today - we need to start to sort out your new school clothes for the new term.”

We both groaned when we heard that - it meant the end of the holidays was coming, and we had to go back to spending weekdays not having fun. “Do we have to, Mum,” I said with my head to the side.

“Yes, we have to,” she said with a smile, “but at least it means you get the whole of tomorrow to play with the girls when they get here.”

That made me feel much better - I wanted to hear how Suzie and Alicia had got on, trying to free themselves when we had left. I picked up a piece of toast and nodded to show I understood, glancing over at Jenny as I did so.

As it was, Tuesday morning could not come quickly enough, but it did, and as the clock stuck ten we saw the big car draw up outside out front door. As the door opened, Suzie hopped out, wearing a pale blue short sleeved dress over white leggings and flat shoes. Heidi was next, waving as she walked up the path, her trainers slapping on the flagstones as she walked up. She was wearing a pair of smart blue jeans and a striped t-shirt.

Finally there was Alicia, turning after she had talked to the driver and running after the other two. Her knee length white linen skirt moved with her as she ran, as her white blouse bounced up and down.

I was already changed, wearing a green patterned skirt with a white lace trim and a short sleeved jumper, while Jenny was wearing a grey denim button up dress with white shoes. She ran to open the door as the other three came in, saying “Hello, Mrs Craig” to Mum as she walked past. Granny had gone early into town with Dad - something about some papers she needed to sign.

“Mum,” Jenny said as she came to the door of the room, “We thought we would go upstairs and play. Is that all right?”

“All right, but you all need to be free from lunch at one, all right?”

“Thanks mum,” Jenny said as we all trooped up the stairs. Mum was wearing a blue silk blouse and linen pants - she had to go to the bank later that afternoon to meet Granny, and April was going to come to look after us then.

As we went into Jenny’s bedroom, Suzie said “We had a great time on Sunday - it took us nearly an hour to free our arms enough to move and try to take those gags out.”

“Yeah,” Alicia said as she sat on the bed, swinging her legs to and fro,” but it was good fun. At least I know I can get free now - what about you, Jenny?”

“No problem,” Jenny said as she looked at the other two, “I can get free faster than either of you!”

Now to me that sounded like a challenge - and Alicia and Heidi obviously felt the same, as they both said “Double Dare you!! Cassie, Suzie - you can do the honours.”

“Oh goodie,” Suzie said as I found our suitcase of stuff and pulled it out, laying it on the bed. “Can I do Jenny, and you do Alicia?”

“Only if I get to do Heidi first,” Alicia said with a mischievous grin. “Hey not fair,” Heidi said in a way that said she didn’t mind, “I don’t want to be at a disadvantage.”

“You won’t be,” I said with a grin as I went to Jenny’s drawer and tossed three pairs of her sports socks towards them, “Put those on first, Heidi, and we’ll make sure Alicia isn’t too strict on you.”

“Famous last words,” Heidi said, but she put the socks on her hands and turned round, looking over her shoulder as Alicia crossed her wrists and used one of our lengths of rope to bind them tightly together. As we watched, I knew she had got very good indeed - the ropes were tight and neat, and went between her arms as well.

As Alicia wrapped some rope around Heidi’s waist, pulling her arms into her back, Jenny pulled a second pair of socks over her hands as Suzie picked up as length of rope. “I guess this is revenge for Sunday,” she said as Suzie moved her arms together behind her back, wrists crossed, and started to tie them together.

Alicia helped Heidi to lie on her back on the floor, having tied some rope around her arms and tummy, and crossed her ankles, binding them tightly together with a length of rope as Suzie bound Jenny’s arms to her side. She then helped her to sit down and lie on her back, and crossed her ankles, making sure her dress skirt stayed in place as she wrapped the rope around her sock covered ankles,.

“I’m ready,” Alicia said as she tugged the rope around Heidi’s legs one last time, tied off the knot and then stood up. She walked to the bed, making sure she went past Suzie, and pulled the last pair of socks onto her hands. “Do your worst,” she said with a smile as she crossed her wrists behind her back and stood in front of me.

I made sure the rope was nice and tight, as it pressed the cotton socks into her arms while I wrapped it around and between them. She was looking at both Heidi and Jenny, who were now been helped to lie down and roll over by Suzie.

“Are you going to do what I think you’re going to do,” I said to Suzie, and she just gave me the most wicked grin back. “We’re going to be in trouble, aren’t we,” Alicia said as she looked over her shoulder at me, smiling as I passed the rope I was tying around her waist between her arms and back to tightly keep her hands in place.

A third length went round her tummy as well, nice and snugly holding her arms in place by the time I had finished. I then helped her to sit down, and as Alicia crossed her ankles I watched Suzie pull Heidi’s ankles up behind her and tie a length of rope around her already tightly tied legs.

I tied Alicia’s ankles and legs as we always do - nice and tightly, with several turns and then between her legs. She slid herself down and rolled over as Suzie tied Jenny’s legs back into what we now knew was called a hogtie, rolling her onto her side to stop her skirt falling down over her bottom.

As she lay talking to Heidi, I tied Alicia’s legs to her chest rope, and rolled her onto her side as well. “So do we get to talk and encourage each toher, or are we just going to have to work alone to free ourselves,” Jenny said as she turned and looked at me rummaging in the case.

“Oh you can help each other, Jenny,” I said with a grin on my face, “But you won’t be able to talk. Suzie - catch!”

I threw a sponge ball to Suzie, who caught it, squeezed it and pushed it into Heidi’s mouth. A second throw, a second squeeze, and Jenny had a ball expanding behind her teeth. As I pushed the thirds one into Alicia’s mouth, Suzie started to use some of our towelling strops and pull them into the mouths of Heidi and Alicia to hold the sponges in, their lips closing over the thick cotton.

As I did the same to Alicia, Suzie found our roll of white tape, and tore the need free, wrapping it round first Heidi, then Jenny’s head to keep the gag firmly in. She passed the roll over, and I heard Alicia say “rdeegrrlsss” as I started to cover her mouth and hair with the tape.

“All right then,” Suzie said as I put the tape back in the case, “I want to test the silencers. Want to help me, Cassie?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” I said as I pulled he shoes off Alicia and Jenny’s feet, Suzie doing the same for Heidi. “Dnndnnttuddrrrddsdsffddff,” Jenny said, but it was too late - we rolled the three girls onto their stomachs and started to tickle their feet.

“MMDSMFFDSGAFFSSTDTATATTTRRRTPTPPPPPPP,” Alicia screamed as she started to thrash from side to side. Jenny wasn’t calling out, but she was trying desperately to get away from our fickle fingers of doom! Only Heidi wasn’t moving, but she was laughing - I could see her eyes crinkle up as she lay there.

“So am I the greatest sister in the world, Jenny,” I said as I tickled her feet. “YSSSSSJJSJSTSTTTPPPPPP” she roared out as she tried to twist out of the way again.

“All right,” Suzie finally said, “You can start to try to free each other - NOW!” Suzie and I sat on the bed and watched as the older ones started to move round, trying to find a way they could work together to free their arms.

“Do you think it’s possible to stop us moving when we’re tied up,” Suzie said as she watched Jenny trying to wriggle round so that she was side on to the other two.

“No idea,” I said as I looked on, “but I want to move round when I’m like that - it’s the most fun.”

“Will you do the same to us, Ali,” Suzie said as she looked at her cousin. Alicia looked at both of us, and then at Jenny before she mumbled “ubbttttrrrrllffwllll,” Jenny nodded in agreement as Heidi bent her legs back and forth, trying to loosen the knots.

The front doorbell rang, and I heard Mum saying “That will be April, girls,” as she walked around downstairs. “April’s our babysitter,” I said to Suzie, “She might even tie us all up at the same time, and we can have a race down the corridor.”

“That would be fun,” Suzie said as Jenny and Alicia managed to get themselves back to back, looking over their shoulders as they remembered they had socks on their hands. “Dmmttt,” I heard Jenny say as Mum walked down the hallway downstairs and opened the door.


I looked at Suzie as the other three looked at me. “Coming, Mum,” I said as I jumped off the bed and walked to the top of the stairs, but as I walked down I saw Mum embracing a complete stranger to me. She was a little smaller than Mum, and a bit fatter. She was also dressed funnily - she had on a long lime green dress with short sleeves, with lovely gold embroidery on it, a matching pair of pants and a long scarf round her neck and shoulders. It looked thin, but it went swell with her clothes.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were back in the country,” Mum said as she let the stranger go and looked at her, her hands on the woman’s shoulders.

“What, and spoil that look on your face,” the woman said before she looked at me, her short dark hair in tight curls. “My goodness, is this my niece? I haven’t seen her since she was a little babe in arms.”

Niece? But this wasn’t Aunt Connie - she had long brown hair. Mum turned and saw me standing there.

“Come on down, Cassie,” she said as she waved at me, “This is the person we named you after - your Aunt Cassie.”


I stood on the stairs, staring at the woman who was standing there with Mum. She had a big round face, which was breaking into a smile while she held her arms out. “Come on and give your older aunt a hug, Cassie,” she said as I walked down, and she enveloped her arms round me. She smelt of spice and cinnamon - and she was strong as well.

“Cassie, are you...” I could hear Suzie coming down the stairs and stopping as she saw me in my aunt’s arms.

“Hi, I’m Suzie,” she said quietly, “Who are you?”

“This is - oh boy, I knew this may happen someday - this is Cassie’s Aunt Cassie, Suzie. Cassie, this is Suzie Holderness, a friend of Cassie’s.”

“Very pleased to meet you, Suzie.” Aunt Cassie said as she let me go. “If you have got so big, how tall is Jenny - and where is she?”

Mum was going to say something, but Suzie beat her and me to it with “Jenny’s upstairs with my cousin and her friend - they’re playing Escape!”

“Escape.” Aunt Cassie said as she looked at Mum. “Don’t tell me they still play those games? Jennifer, I thought you had grown out of that!”

“Yes, well, I think they grew into it,” Mum said as she shrugged her shoulders, “Why don’t we go up and see them?”

The four of us trooped up the stairs, my holding my aunt’s hand, until we stopped at Jenny’s room door and Mum opened it. Aunt Cassie looked in at the three girls, lying on the floor, before saying “Great - another generation of Craigs doing this to each other.”

Jenny rolled over as she heard the voice, looked at us in the doorway with her eyes all screwed up, and then said “ntccisssssaaa?”

“I see you at least remember me,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile as she knelt down, her skirt falling around her legs, and looked at the ropes. “I see John has taught them one or two of his old tricks - but there’s more going on here. Who are Jenny’s friends?”

“The dark haired girl is my cousin Alicia, and this is our American friend Heidi,” Suzie said as they looked up and nodded.

“Nice to meet you girls,” Aunt Cassie said as she smiled at them. “Well, don’t let me interrupt your games. Jennifer, is there any chance of a cup of coffee? I haven’t had a decent cup since leaving Darfur yesterday.”

“Of course,” Mum said as she took Aunt Cassie by the arm, “Do you two want to come down or are you going to stay up here with the others?”

“We’ll come down when they get free, Mum,” I said as they turned and walked out of the room, talking in low tones. “Now,” Suzie said as the door closed, “Where were we - oh yes, about to tickle whoever wasn’t getting free....”

It was just before one when we all went down the stairs to the kitchen, where Mum and Aunt Cassie were sitting. She got up and gave Jenny a hug as well, and shook the hands of Heidi and Alicia.

“It’s been a long time, Aunt Cassie,” Jenny said when she was released, “You missed the wedding and everything.”

“Yeah, I know kiddo,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile, “but I could not get away in time. I’m here now though, and I’ll catch up with Connie eventually.”

“Forgive me for asking,” Heidi said as she accepted a glass of squash,” but you sure don't dress like Jenny or Cassie.”

“No, but this is the height of fashion in the more western parts of Islamabad these days,” Cassie said as she stood up and twirled round. “Blouses, skirts and dresses do not really fit in over there.”

“So which aunt are you, Miss Craig,” Alicia asked.

“Oh, I’m the middle one of the family,” Aunt Cassie replied as she sat down. “John - Jenny and Cassie’s Dad - he is two years older than me, and Connie is three years younger.”

“And is what Cassie says true - that he used to tie you and your sister up, as well as her granny?”

“He tried,” Aunt Cassie said, “but he was more successful with Connie than me. I used to fight back, but Connie just went along with it. He used to really love the chair ties with me.”

“Can you show me how - me and Suzie? We haven’t had a chance to play a game yet!”

Aunt Cassie looked at Mum, who just shook her head. “It’s all right, Cassie - I’ll fill you in on the details later. You’re going to stay for dinner, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world - so you think you could get out of the sort of chair tie your dad did, do you?”

“Lunch first,” Mum said, “and then you go to the toilet. Connie told me about these ties - and you’ll be grateful of the relief.”

She placed a large plate of ham sandwiches on the table as we descended on them like the pack of ravenous cubs we were, as Mum looked at her watch.

“Dear God, I’ve got to move,” she said as the front door bell rang. “That will be April, the babysitter” she said as she walked to the door, returning with April. She was wearing a long floral print skirt and a long sleeved round necked top.

“Hi girls,” she said as she came in, “Let me guess - the cute one is Suzie, the serious one is Alicia, and the one who looks like she’s a Yank is Heidi, right? I’m April - pleased to meet you.”

“April I have to run - Cassie are you coming with me?”

“I’ll stay if you don’t mind - Don’t tell John I’m here, but tell Mum. I want to surprise him later.”

“He’ll be surprised all right,” Mum said as she grabbed her jacket. She ran to the door, leaving us with April and Aunt Cassie.

“So, Miss Craig...”

“Please, call me Cass - that way we won’t get me and poppet here mixed up.”

“All right, Cass - why do you do for work?”

“Oh, I do some work as a Foreign Office representative,” Aunt Cassie said as she sat back down. “My latest role finished earlier than expected, and it’s been over eight years since I last saw my family, so I thought it was well overdue.”

“We got Christmas and Birthday cards,” Jenny said before she took a drink from her glass, then said “as well as the occasional letter, but - it really has been eight years?”

“Eight and a half, Jenny”, Aunt Cassie said. “Anyway, I believe you two wanted a challenge. Go and do the toilet, then come back down. Jenny, got any rope?”

“One or two bits,” Jenny said as she followed us up the stairs, and then brought several lengths back down with her. When Suzie and I came back into the room, Aunt Cassie had set two chairs up next to each other.

“Sit down, you two,” my aunt said, but we did not need any encouraging - we both hopped on and sat with our hands on our laps.

“Tummies first,” Aunt Cassie said as she passed a length of rope around my waist, pulling me back so that my back was firmly against the chair back and tying it to the centre of the five pieces of wood that ran down the back. She did the same to Suzie, as the others watched.

She then put our hand to the side of the chair, and started by tying one end of a long, long length of rope around my wrists, next to the chair back so that it was held firmly in place. She then wound the rope around my tummy and arms, as well as the chair back, weaving it in and out as she did so before using the last few feet to tie my other wrist to the chair back.

“Where did you go on holiday, April,” Jenny said as if nothing unusual was happening. It wasn’t - Suzie was just as happy as me, winking as she was tied in place as well - but April looked at us as well before saying “Miami - I needed some time away to get over that night. Anything interesting happen while I was away?”

“Nah - all five of us got tied up and gagged by one of the nicest masked men I’ve ever met, and we played a few games.”

“Hold on - you were in another robbery?”

“Yeah,” Alicia said, “at my grandmother’s house.” As she told April what happened, Aunt Cassie had folded my legs so that I was sitting on the chair with my legs crossed, and had tied my left ankle to my right knee, as well as my right ankle to my left knee. I caught April having a look out of the corner of her eye, but she turned away again without saying anything.

“I have to do this in gymnastics,” Suzie said as she let Aunt Cassie fold her legs and then tie them together. “I can hold this position for as long as you want.”

“We’ll see,” Aunt Cassie said as she patted her on the head. “Now, I guess we can sit and talk...”

“No we can’t” I called out, “We want to be silenced!”

“Do you really?”

“Yes,” Suzie said, “with cloth and tape and things!”

“Well, I don’t know....”

Jenny simply picked up a hankie, stuffed it in her mouth, tore a strip off the grey roll of duct tape and stuck it over her lips. “Sllrghhntcssse,” she mumbled, “wrreusdttt.”

“All right, then, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she replied as we both opened our mouths, and allowed her to push a folded up handkerchief in, then to put three strips of duct tape over our closed lips. “So, April, What do you think we should do with these three?”

“I want to hear more of what happened,” April said, “and besides, cute as they are we can’t leave them alone like this.”

As the five of them sat round the table, I found out something I hadn’t experienced before - it was almost impossible for me to move. Looking at Suzie, she was thinking the same thing, so we sat and listened to them as they talked. Jenny told them about our days at Holderness Manor, while Alicia told us the full story of the day before we were robbed.

It was Heidi who was fascinating, however, as she told stories of her family and friends, and especially the weekends she spent bound and gagged for various reasons. I started giggling when she told us of her friend Cindy's party before she flew over here, when the door burst open and Granny stood there, panting as she took in the scene.

“Cassandra?” she said, but when I said “Hgnneeee” she walked over and embraced Aunt Cassie instead, the tears falling down her cheeks. “Why haven’t you been in touch, why haven’t you called - where have you been,” she said as she held her as Mum had held her earlier.

“I’m fine Mum, I’m fine,” Cassie said as she looked at Granny. “I just got home earlier than expected, and I didn’t have time to tell you. After missing Connie’s wedding, I wanted to surprise all of you.”

“Surprise us? First your sister cuts short her honeymoon then you turn up unannounced...”

“Connie’s back?” Aunt Cassie looked worried for a second, but when she looked back at me the smile was back on her face. “Well, it seems the gang is all here again. Does John know?”

“No - Jennifer - oh dear,” she said as she looked round the room, “This is going to get very confusing, isn’t it? No, Jennifer told me when we left the bank, so I cane straight home while she went to tell Connie. Tell me you’re going to stay here.”

“I can’t - I’ll stay for dinner, but I need to check in at the head office.”

“Cone for dinner on Thursday then - in fact, Alicia, can you ask your Grandma if you three can come as well? I’m sure Cassandra has lots of tales to tell.”

“I’ll ask her,” Alicia said with a smile, and Granny finally looked at me., “So have you figured out how it get free of this yet,” she said with a smile. I nodded as I lifted up my hand, having wriggled it free of the ropes while they had been talking.

“She is good,” Aunt Cassie said - and she had cause to say it again on Thursday...




Once Granny had untied Suzie and me, we went upstairs again with the girls and April. As we walked into Jenny’s room, Heidi closed the door and said “Interesting woman, your Aunt Cassie. You really haven’t seen her for eight years?”

“Nope,” Jenny said as she sat on her bed, “she works abroad all the time. April, I never got the chance to say sorry for that night - you must have been terrified.”

That surprised me - why was April scared when we had so much fun? I looked at her and said “Were you scared?”

“Nope - well, a bit, but I needed time to recover. As it was, it sounds as if you had a more interesting time. I’ve heard of this Mister Small - and something tells me a certain young Miss Craig may have talked him into doing what he did.”

“Who me?” I said this with as innocent a face as I could muster, but it was no good - everyone else burst out laughing, even Alicia. “Oh come on, Cassie,” she eventually said, “You got us all trussed up like turkeys, and we could hardly move our heads.”

“Want to show me how it was? I’m not going anywhere for a while, anyway.”

“All right,” Jenny said as she and Heidi jumped off her bed. “Why don’t you lie down and put your hands behind your back.”

“Like this,” April said as she lay down and crossed her wrists behind her back. “No,” I said as I moved her hands and pressed them together, palm to palm, “Like this.” The others watched as I started to tie April’s wrists together, and Jenny crossed her ankles before winding another length of rope round them.

“”So far so good,” April said as she rolled over onto her back and sat up. Jenny climbed onto the bed and wrapped a length of rope around her waist, fixing her wrists into the small of her back, and then a length round her tummy, pulling her arms in as the white showed up on her dark top. As for me, I knelt in front of her and lifted her skirt up, saying “Sorry” before I pulled her legs together below her knees. “You two have got better at doing this,” she said as Jenny bound her arms around her shoulders.

“Do you want to find out what the gag was like before you lie down,” Jenny asked as she tied the last knot off, and April wriggled her arms round. “Go on, do it before I lie down,” she said, so I picked up a handkerchief, folded it nicely and held it in front of her mouth, while Jenny found a roll of the brown fabric stuff that Suzie had given us.

April opened her mouth, letting me push the cloth in and closing her mouth over it, then she said “Icnstllldsddsdmmmmmmm” as Jenny stuck the brown fabric firmly over her mouth. We then helped her to lie down, then rolled her onto her tummy and pulled her legs back as Jenny fixed her ankles to the ropes around her tummy.

“Stttt,” she mumbled, but even those mumbles were cut off even more as Jenny wrapped one of her black school scarves round her mouth, tying it off at the back of her neck, and then using a length of twine to fix the knot to her upper chest ropes. “Mgggggg,” he said, trying hard to look over her shoulders as I wrapped the brown fabric round her fingers, holding them firmly together.

“Mnngggsddddd,” was April could say as we rolled her onto her side, putting a pillow under her head as Jenny pulled her skirt down. She tried to move, but with little success as Suzie looked at her. “Did I look like that,” she asked as she looked at the ropes.

“Yup,” Heidi said, “You all did - mind you, I don’t think April is going to play wriggly worms the way she is right now.”

“Why not?” I said as I looked at her lying there. My question went unanswered as the front door opened and closed quickly, and I heard dad say “Cassie - when did you get back!” I suddenly realised how late it was getting, so I said to April “Do you want us to untie you now?”

“Ntttyttttmmmwllkll,” she said as she tried to shake her head from side to side. “All right - but we need to let you go soon,” Jenny said as she stood up. “Your Grandma will be here for you soon anyway.”

Dinner that night was different - Dad ordered some food from what he called a Tendory, or at least that’s what I think it was called. Jenny and I had some nice spicy chicken and thin bread, while Mum, Dad, Granny and Aunt Cassie ate other dishes with funny looking gravy.

“So,” we hear Dad say as I put a piece of the chicken in my mouth, “What brings you back so suddenly? Not that it’s not great to see you, but I thought you were out there for a while longer.”

“Change of plans, O brother of mine,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile. “I’m going to stay around here for a week or so, and then head off again I’d imagine.”

“But you’ll be here when Aunt Connie comes round,” I said after I’d swallowed my food.”

“You bet I will, little one,” she said as she dipped a piece of her bread into the sauce. “I owe her several years’ worth of hugs and a wedding present, after all.”

“Oh, can we see it,” Jenny said as she looked up. “Not until Thursday,” Aunt Cassie said, “and only then once I’ve given it to Aunt Connie, all right?”

“Can’t you at least give us a hint?”

“Let’s test your RE, shall we - Matthew 13:46. Now eat up - you can’t let good food go to waste.”

Later that night, once we had washed and got ready for bed, Jenny came into my room with a brown book in her hand., “I looked it up,” she said as she opened the big book at a page, “Can you read this?”

“And when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.” I looked at Jenny. “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I - but I bet we find out on Thursday night!”



When Thursday came, Jenny and I helped Mum to clear up the house, including our rooms. Once that was done, we both got changed out of our dirty clothes. Mum had laid out a white short sleeved blouse for me, with a knee length red and white checked skirt, white socks and shoes, while Jenny was given a blue sleeveless dress, with straps over her shoulders, that had a white lace trim round the skirt, socks and shoes.

At 4 o’clock, the front door bell rang, and we both ran to open it. Aunt Connie was standing there, with Dave behind her. She embraced both of us, picking us up in turn as she said “Well, how are my two favourite bridesmaids today? I have missed you so much - and you have to tell me all about what happened after you left the reception - in private of course,” she whispered just to the two of us as Uncle Dave hugged Mum.

“Hi Mum,” Connie said as she came into the front room where Granny was sitting. Granny had on a white jumper and light coloured slacks, while Aunt Connie was wearing a white smock top over some lovely black leggings with gold on the sides.

“Connie,” Granny said as she stood up, “It’s good to see you - but why did you come back so early?”

“I needed to talk to John about something - it turns out a story I’ve been working on may have... Hey, you two, what are you doing?”

“Waiting to see the wedding pictures,” Jenny said as we stood there. I really wanted to gear what Aunt Connie had to say, but she just smiled and said “Dave - you’d better get the album from the car.”

“All right,” we heard him call out, and then a voice saying “He’s a cute one, Sis - where did you hide him?”

Aunt Connie turned slowly round, and looked at Aunt Cassie as she stood in the doorway. She was wearing a white denim blouse, the sleeves going down to her elbows with a thick brown leather belt round her waist, a long patterned skirt and brown felt boots. A red scarf was tied in a band in her hair.

“Oh my... CASSIE!” Aunt Connie laterally ran across the room and embraced Aunt Cassie, saying “Where on earth have you been,” as they hugged.

“We saw her on Tuesday,” I said with a big smile on my face, “Surprise!”

“Surprise is right,” Aunt Connie said as she finally let Aunt Cassie go. “My god, girl, where did you jump out of?”

“I think you know,” Aunt Cassie said as she looked at my other aunt. “I think you and I have a few things to discuss, but first I need to give you something.” She walked out of the room for a minute, before coming back and handing Aunt Connie a long black jewellery case. “I’m sorry it’s late, but I hope you like it,” she said as she handed it over.

Jenny and I watched as Aunt Connie opened it and drew out a string of pearly white beads, one of which was much larger than the rest. “Oh... My... God...” she exclaimed as she held the necklace up to the light. “Cassie, this is beautiful - where did you get it?”

“Never mind - it’s my way of saying sorry and congratulations at the same time. Go on - put it on.”

Aunt Connie fastened the necklace round her neck, the large bead hanging in front of her neckline. Uncle Dave walked in, and whistled when he saw the gift.

“MY god, that’s the biggest pearl I’ve ever seen,” he said as he looked at it. “Who gave this to you?”

“My sister Cassie. Cassie, Dave - Dave, Cassie?”

“So you’re the famous Cassandra Craig - I’ve heard so much about you.” He embraced and hugged Aunt Cassie as Mum came into the room, carrying a tray of mugs.

“Come on then, Connie, let’s see those photos,” she said as she set the tray down. We sat either side of Aunt Connie as she took the album from Uncle Dave and looked at the pictures. I particularly liked the ones we were in, and I told all three of them about our adventures as kidnapped princesses afterwards.

“Your niece has some imagination,” Uncle Dave said, and we all just smiled at each other. Eventually, I felt as if I needed to go somewhere, so I made my excuses and headed out of the room. As I did so, I heard the doorbell ring, and as I climbed the stairs I saw Mum walking towards the front door.

I closed and locked the bathroom door, taking care of myself as I heard some muffled voices from downstairs, and someone coming up the stairs with heavy feet. I just figured it was Uncle Dave, but when I had flushed and washed my hands there was silence.

I opened the bathroom door, and was starting to head down the stairs when I was surprised. I mean really surprised - I was grabbed from behind and lifted into the air, as a hand was clamped over my mouth, the smell of leather filling my nose as I was quickly carried downstairs.


As I was taken down, I was feeling a mixture of surprise and excitement. I couldn’t believe it - I had no idea who this was, but they had me in a very tight grip, both around my body and on my mouth.

Whoever it was carried me from the bottom of the stairs to the front room, where I found Mum, Aunt Connie, Aunt Cassie, Granny and Jenny kneeling on the floor, their hands behind their heads. Jenny winked at me as I was let go, and a deep voice said “Go and kneel next to your sister, little one.”

“What’s going on, Jenny.” I said as I walked over and knelt next to her, putting my hands behind my head. I could now see four people in the room, all wearing white overalls with thick boots and leather gloves on, and balaclavas like the one Mister Small had worn over their heads, so that I could only see their eyes and mouths. Two of them had heavy sticks in their hands, while a third had a funny looking metal tube with a wooden handle.

“What is this all about,” Granny said as she looked up at them, “barging in here and terrorising us?”

“And where’s my husband,” Aunt Connie said with a hint of fear in her voice, “What have you done with Dave?”

“He’s fine,” the man with the deep voice said, “but he’s staying out of the way. When your husband gets home, he can stay with him while we have a little chat with you. Right now, you just need to kneel there and shut up.”

“Are you going to tie us up?”

Both my aunts looked at me as they heard me say this, while Mum and Granny just raised their heads and said “Oh boy.”

“I just want to know if we’re going to be tied up - we always are when people dressed like this call round.”

“Really? Well, if you do as you’re told we won’t have to, so just be quiet, all right?”

“Cassie,” Jenny hissed out of the corner of her mouth, “Now’s not the time to play games...”

“It’s fun though,” I protested, “I feel safe and happy when that happens.”

“Take the two younger ones upstairs,” the man said to one of the others, “and put them in a bedroom. Make sure they’re nice and safe up there, while I have a word with the ladies here.”

“Are you going to tell us what this is about,” Aunt Connie called out as Jenny and I were made to stand up.

“It concerns the Pearl of Great Price, Miss Craig - as you well know.” I could see Aunt Connie glance at Aunt Cassie as she said this,

“The Pearl of Great Price - that’s the group I’ve been looking into. Cassie, what have you got to do with them?”

“Nothing - not unless you count my wedding present as a very valuable pearl, which it is. I’ve got no idea what these goons are on about.

“Come along,” the masked person said as Jenny and I were walked out of the room, and up the staircase. We were walked into our room, before the masked person went outside and closed the door to.

“Jenny, do you think they are going to help us to play?”

“I don’t know, Cassie,” Jenny said as she looked at the door, “but if they are, I want it to be with everyone else, so that we can play together, all right?”

“I know - it’s more fun that way,” I said as I sat on the bed, “but does that mean Alicia, Heidi and Suzie are going to play when they get here as well?”

“Oh god,” Jenny said as she hit her forehead with her hand, “I’d forgotten all about them. They’re going to walk right into this!” She looked towards the doorway, and if I didn’t know better I would have said she was scared.

“Cassie, you have got to promise me you won’t do or say anything unless we’re told to. With any luck, the others can come up here as well, and we can at least be together when they come.”

“But has Mum remembered?”

“I’m sure she has - she doesn’t forget things like that.”

“We’d better remind Mum,” I said as I jumped off the bed and ran to the door, pulling it open and tucking past the masked man who was standing by the wall. Jenny ran after me, tucking under his arms as he tried to grab her while I ran down the stairs. In the living room I could hear Mum saying “Please, we don’t know what you want, just leave us alone.”

“It’s all right, dear, “I then heard Granny saying, “If we just stay calm, I’m sure these men will not harm us. I do want to know what they’re on about though, Connie - what is this Pearl of Great Price, a religious book?”

“Not this time, mum - it’s something far bigger than that, it’s - Cassie?”

“Hmmm,” Aunt Cassie said as she turned and looked at me and Jenny standing in the doorway, her eyebrows rising as she saw us standing there. She had a big bruise on her cheek, and what looked like a piece of cloth sticking out of her mouth.

“Hey - I thought I told you to keep the two kids out of the way,” the man with the deep voice said as we walked into the room. Mum, Aunt Cassie and Aunt Connie were all sat on the long couch, while Granny was in the chair opposite. All of them had their hands behind their back, while the other two men were standing watching them.

“Sorry, boss, they were too quick for me,” the man who had tried to grab us said. I was looking at Mum and Granny as they slowly shook their heads from side to side.

“I need to remind Mum about the others coming,” I said as I heard Jenny groan behind me - must have been a bad sandwich she ate earlier.

“Others,” the deep voiced man said as he walked over and stood in front of Mum, “What others?”

“Three friends of my daughter - they’re coming of dinner tonight. Please, for God’s sake just leave them alone.”

“When are they arriving?”

Granny looked at the clock. “In about fifteen minutes - why?”

“Damn -we need to get ready for them. Bind their ankles - you two come here and stand in front of me.”

Jenny held my shoulder as we both walked forward and stood in front of him, as the other two men knelt in front of Granny and Aunt Connie and started to tie their ankles together with cords. “I don’t like tying up kids,” the man said, “but you two need to be kept here and quiet for a while. Turn round.”

“I like having my hands tied,” I said happily as I felt the cord going around my crossed wrists. Secretly, I wanted this to be like every time - nice and tight and snug and neat. So when he tied the rope between my arms and went to Jenny, I was going to tell him off. Before I did so, however, I caught a look from Jenny that was unmistakable - DON’T!

As the two men knelt in front of Mum and Aunt Cassie, we were made to sit on the floor next to each other, and watch as the deep voiced man pushed our ankles together and tied the cord tightly round them. I could move my hands round fairly easily, and even thought I could start to wriggle free, but another idea had crossed my mind - what would Suzie say if she walked in and saw us all like this?

So I sat quietly, watching as the fourth masked man went into the kitchen and brought back a roll of Dad’s Grey tape. He threw it at the man he called Boss, who tore a strip off and stuck it over my mouth, then one over Jenny’s. I said “stthtll,” to him, as he stood up and nodded to the other three. They all took out of their pockets a square of old towel, which they rolled up and pushed into the mouths of Aunt Connie, Mum and Granny, before covering their mouths as well as that of Aunt Cassie with three strips of tape each.

That was so unfair - having such a light gag when the others got something far nicer. I looked at Jenny, who just shook her head and then turned it over her shoulder, indicating with her fingers I should shuffle over.

The man who had been upstairs had gone over to the window, which had the blinds drawn down, and was peeking through the slats. “There’s a car pulling up, Boss,” he said as he turned his head, “Three kids getting out. Two about the same age as the older kid here, one younger.”

“Go to the front door and open it,” he said as we watched the man walk across the room. “Once they are inside, close the door and bring them in here.”

“Right,” he said as he walked out the door, and the boss man put his fingers to his lips, indicating we should all be quiet. We sat there, me trying hard not to laugh, as we heard the front door open and Alicia say “Sorry if we’re - oh.” There were footsteps, and then the masked man pushed all three of them into the room.

Suzie was wearing a dark blue dress with white ace trim on the cuffs of her elbow length sleeves and he pleated skirt, white socks and black shoes. Alicia was wearing a pastel green trouser suit and a white t-shirt, while Heidi had on a short black skirt and blouse with kitten heeled shoes. The three of them looked round the room, and it was funny to watch the way they reacted.

Heidi rolled her eyes and said “Why do I keep walking into these things?”

Alicia looked at Jenny and said “Are you all right?” to which Jenny replied “Yssss” and nodded her head.

Suzie looked at me and said “Oh goodie - can we all play as well?”

That was it - I went “thtsfnnneeeee” as I bobbed my head up and down, while Suzie bent over double.

“You two,” the boss man said to two of his friends, “Take these three up to the parents’ bedroom, and make sure they stay out of the way.”

“Here we go again,” Heidi said to the other two as Jenny and I were hoisted over the shoulders of the two men, and we were all made to go up the staircase. I heard the boss man say “Now, which of you is going to talk first,” as we were taken up, and carried into Mum and Dad’s room. Jenny and me were dropped on the bed and made to sit up, while Heidi, Suzie and Alicia stood watching.

“What are we going to do with them?”

“We’ll put the three older ones together, and leave the other two on the bed. They won’t cause any trouble once we’ve tied them up. You,” he said as he pointed at Jenny, “Get off the bed and sit on the floor.” As Jenny slid onto the floor and moved forward, the second man took Suzie’s arms and pulled them behind her back.

“This is going to be fun,” Suzie said as Alicia was made to sit next to Jenny and put her left arm through Jenny’s right, before her wrists were pulled behind her back and tied together. Heidi was them made to sit between both of them and loop her arms through theirs, before her wrists were tied together too.

While this was going on, Suzie was made to walk over to the bed and sit next to me. I swung my legs up and down as I watched her ankles been tied tightly together as well. As we were made to lie on our backs on the bed, I turned over and watched as Alicia and Heidi also had their ankles tied together, side by side, and then their mouths covered with a single strip of the tape.

“Put your lips together,” I heard someone say behind me, and I rolled over to watch as Suzie had a strip of the silver tape stuck over her mouth as well. It stretched from jaw to jaw, but as she turned and looked at me I could see she was enjoying it as much as me.

“Come on,” the man said as he and his friend walked out of the door, “They’re not going anywhere.” He closed the door to, as I looked at Suzie, and then rolled over to look at the other three.

“Wrkurjwstgttfff,” Heidi was saying as I watched her moving her jaw round, trying to loosen the tape, while from the way the tape was bulging on Jenny’s mouth I figured she was using her tongue. IT might taste horrid, but one of the first things we learnt was that was an effective way of moving it.

I rolled over to see Suzie looking at me. “Cppmm,” I said as I shuffled up the bed to a pillow, and started to rub my cheek on the linen pillow case. Suzie did the same, as I felt the tape starting to come away from my cheek.

“Well now,” Heidi said as she finally worked the tape loose, the silver band hanging from her jaw, “how are the rest of you getting on. Alicia?”

“Nerllydn,” Alicia said, and as she turned her head I could see she was doing the same thing as Heidi. “I need to try that - the stuff tastes horrible,” Jenny said as both Suzie and I tore the tape away, the sticky stuff staying on the pillow as we both sat ourselves up and wriggled to the end of the bed.

“So this is a genuine robbery?” Jenny looked at Alicia and said “I’m not sure - they seem to want to ask Aunt Connie about something. At any rate, they seemed to think this was going to hold us.

“Suzie, Cassie - I want you two to go and hop, as quietly as you can, to Granny’s room. I think she has a mobile phone in her bedside cabinet - find it and call the police.”

“What are you going to do,” I said as both Suzie and I stood up on the floor and started to half hop, half shuffle across the room.

“I’ve got a pair of scissors in my drawers - if the three of us can stand up, we can move ourselves over and try to use them to get free.”

We both nodded as we reached the door and I opened it. Looking out, I could not see anyone standing guard, so we slipped out and started to shuffle down the hallway. We could hear the odd snatch of conversation from downstairs, such as Aunt Cassie saying “You really do think you’re big men, don’t you?” and Granny saying “Cassandra, dear, please remember we are all here.”

After a few minutes, we reached granny’s room, and I pushed open the door. There was the bedside cabinet, so we both hopped over and sat on her bed, catching our breath before I got on my knees and reached with my hands, grabbing the handle and pulling the drawer out.

“I can see it,” Suzie cried out as I half opened the drawer.

“Yeah - so can I,” the deep voice said from the doorway, and we both looked up to see the Boss standing there.


“Hi there,” I said with a smile, “You really did not tie us up well, did you?”

“Well someone didn’t,” he said as we heard another gang member say “Hey Boss - the three older ones have got loose, and I can’t see the other two.”

“I’m talking to them,” he called back over his shoulder, “and you two berks need to get a grip on things.”

“The other men made sure we were all well tied up,” Suzie said as she stuck her tongue out,” and they listened to what we said. You didn’t.”

“The other men? All right then - how did they tie you up?”

“They made sure they only way we could move was if we were wriggly worms - want us to show you?”

The Boss didn’t say a word, but picked us both up in his arms and carried us back to the bedroom. As we were taken in, we saw Jenny, Alicia and Heidi lying on Mum and Dad’s bed, while the two masked men crossed and tied their wrists back together again behind their backs.

“He wants us to tell him how we were tied up by the man that day,” I said as I Jenny looked at me.

“I don't get it, Boss - they’re just kids, they’re meant to be too scared to do anything.”

“Well, obviously they’re not - what’s going on downstairs?”

“He’s talking to that bird - Captain Craig - to see if she’s ready to talk yet.”

“You mean Aunt Cassie? I’m named after her you know,” I said as he put us down and re-tightened the ropes around our wrists.

“You need to tie some more round our waists,” Suzie said, “to make sure we can’t move them.”

“Oh great,” Alicia said as she nudged Jenny with her legs, “your sister’s got Suzie excited now.” She grunted as she was made to kneel, and a length of rope passed round her waist as well, fixing her wrists against her back while I felt the same thing been done to me.

“Do we need to do to them what you did to the adults downstairs?”

“Maybe these three - but we’ll go a little easier on these two. Don’t do everything though - they’re just kids after all.”

“That’s not fair,” I said as I watched Suzie have her wrists tied against her back, “We all want to be treated the same way.”

“No you don’t” the Boss said as Jenny and Heidi had their wrists tied against their back, “I really don’t think you do.”

I saw that we all had our fingers free, and was about to say something when Jenny shook her head as little as she could. I figured she had a plan, so I said nothing as the Boss passed some rope round my arms and tummy and pulled them into my side, making sure it was tight before he passed the rope between my arms and sides. He did the same thing to Suzie, before saying “Right - sit down against the wall, and we’ll make sure you can’t hop off again.”

“But we like hopping,” I protested as he crossed y ankles and wrapped the rope round my socks. “It keeps us fit and it’s fun!”

The Boss actually shook her head as he heard that. “You two amateurs could learn a thing or two from this one,” he said as he looked up at the bed, “so make sure you cross their ankles as well.”

“Big mouth,” Alicia said as she turned her head and stuck her tongue out at us. The masked man had wound some rope around her arms and body, across her tummy and her shoulders and then pulled the two bands together behind her back as well as tightened it between her arms and sides. The ropes were pulling her green jacket open in front of her, as he made her lie down and cross her ankles. I could then see Jenny having the ropes tied round her, as Heidi grunted when she was made to lie down.

The Boss pulled the rope tightly between my legs, and tied it off, before he did the same thing to Suzie. He then made us both bend out legs, our skirts slipping down as we did so, and passed some more rope around our legs below our knees.

“Tell me you at least made sure there wasn’t a phone or anything in here,” the Boss said as he pulled my legs together. There was no answer to that, so he turned his head and said “Well?”

“Your goons came in to find me about to dial for help,” Alicia said as she looked at him. I could see that look of fear in her eyes as her ankles were pulled together, but it didn’t look as bad as when Mister Small took care of us.

“Yeah, well...” the masked man said, but the Boss just shouted “You pair of.... Never take boys to do a man’s job.” He pulled my legs tightly together, making me squeal before he cinched the coils between my legs.

I heard the front door open, and Dad call out “Hey, where is...” before there was a thump. “Your dad’s going to be just fine,” the Boss said as he started to work on Suzie’s legs, “so long as he does what we tell him.”

As he pulled Suzie’s legs together, I tried to move my own arms. They were much more tightly bound this time, but I could still wriggle my fingers. Jenny seemed to think it was important I didn’t say anything, however, so I kept mum as the Boss started to tie my legs together above my knees. When he was done, he pulled my legs flat and made sure my skirt was going back down to my knees as he did so. Suzie got the same nice treatment, as we watched the two men binding Alicia’s legs over her trousers.

“Make those three sit up next to each other on the end of the bed,” the Boss said, and the two men sat Jenny, Alicia and Heidi side by side. They all were bound the same way - we could see the bands of rope around their waists, tummies and shoulders, as well as their ankles, knees and thighs. I could see the ropes over the skirt of Jenny’s dress as she winked at me.

“They got that tape off far too easily,” the Boss said as he looked at us. “Of course we did - you didn’t; stop us using our tongues,” I said. “The others gagged us so well we couldn’t even talk.”

“I’m not going to do that to you - you’re still kids,” the Boss said. “You find something to stuff their mouths with, and you look through Mummy’s scarves.”

“That’s better,” I said with a smile, “I like it when I can’t move my tongue.”

“You’re a weird kid,” the Boss said as one of the other two opened one of Dad’s drawers and took out a pile of clean handkerchiefs. He handed some to the Boss and some to the other man as he wadded two together and said to Jenny “Open your mouth.”

“Right, you be a good girl now Cassie,” she said with a wink as the cloths went into her mouth, then she said “Hwurdnngalssha.”

“I’m all right,” Alicia said as the second man held a couple of handkerchiefs in front of her mouth. “So long as you’re here, I’ll be fine.” She then allowed him to push the cloths in. Heidi looked at the three men, and said “Your British certainly have a different way of doing things - I’m normally gagged before my legs get tired,” but she allowed the cloths to go in as well.

“Suzie and I only got one in our mouths - I mean, it filled my mouth, but I still felt like we were missing out. Suzie nudged me after the cloth went into her mouth and said “Whtwgngngtdtssttm?”

“Wtndcceee,” I mumbled as the men looked through some of Mum’s scarves, eventually selecting five and folding them into thick bands, tying knots in the centre of them. A blue one, the same colour as her dress, went into Jenny’s mouth, and a lime green one into Alicia’s. I thought tie as really nice of them to co-ordinate the colours with their clothes - even Heidi got a thick white silk scarf tied into her mouth, her teeth closing over the knot.

“stsssllurggngtd,” I said as I watched him pull a red and black striped scarf into Suzie’s mouth, her teeth barely closing over the knot in the centre. The Boss said nothing, but just pulled a red silk scarf into my mouth, taking the bands around my hair and tying the ends tightly together at the back of my neck.

“Rntuggngntcvrrmths,” I mumbled as I looked up at the three men. “You two won’t go anywhere now,” he said, “but these three - tie their arms and their legs to each toher.”

I watched as one man wrapped a length of rope around Heidi’s right and Jenny’s left arm, and the other around Heidi’s left and Alicia’s right arm, pulling them together as well between their elbows and their shoulders, and then their legs below their knees as well, so that the three were made to sit in a straight line.

“Now you five don’t move,” the Boss said, “I need to have a word with Dad and Uncle Dave. Make sure those curtains are closed and everything - I mean everything they can use is out of this room. I don’t want them suddenly producing a mobile; phone out of somewhere. We may have disabled the telephones, but I’m taking no chances anymore.”

Suzie and I watched as the two men searched the rest of the room, pulling Dad’s laptop out of the cupboard and taking it with them. They left the door open as they left, so I was able to hear some of the conversation from downstairs.

“All right, Captain, are you ready to talk now?”

I heard Aunt Cassie say, “For God’s sake, what have you done with the kids?”

“They’re fine - an inventive bunch, but they’re not going anywhere now. Just answer our questions.”

“Not until you take the gags out of the mouths of the others.”

There was silence for a moment, before I heard Aunt Connie say “Cassie, what the hell have you got us into?”

“I’m sorry, folks, really sorry. I have been looking into the activities of this group in Pakistan, and was called home to give an update of what I found. What I don’t understand is how you got involved, Connie.”

“Money laundering - I was following the trail of finance from London to them. I should have realised we would both end up on the same thing - it happens a lot with the Craigs.”

I heard Mum say “What the hell are you then, Cassie, some sort of secret agent?”

“Not really, no - that’s another department. Anyway, I had no idea they were onto me, or else I would never have come over until I had been debriefed.”

“Miranda, did you know what Cassie was?”

“She followed in her father’s footsteps, dear - I could not stop her. In many ways, John is the most mainstream of the three of them.”

“Where is my husband anyway?”

“You’ll see him in a few minutes. We’re going to get him and your husband to fetch some things back here for us, and then we may let you go.”


“That’s up to my Boss. The Pearl of Great Price does not look too kindly on intrusions into their work - even those as skilfully done as that by your daughters. Right then - get the two men in here.”

“Cssss,szeee, uteellrght?”

We both looked at Alicia and nodded, as she smiled over her scarf gag. I really wanted something to cover it , to make us almost totally silent, but at least what we were saying to each other was muffled to a great extent. I could still understand what she was saying, though - or at least I hoped I could.

Heidi was twisting her arms from side to side, making both Jenny and Alicia move with her. I had no idea what she was up to, but before I could ask Suzie said to Alicia “Whnsnsgrrneneegnnaclll?”

“Ntbfrrrnnn,” Alicia mumbled as I saw the knot in her mouth starting to darken. “Tsnlleeesxfrteeenw.”

Through the door I heard the Boss saying “So you understand - you go with these two, get all the information from your new wife’s PC and the vault, and bring it back here. Nobody gets harmed if you do as you’re told.”

“You harm a hair on their heads,” I heard Dad say, “and I promise I will hunt each of you down.” I was very proud of him from saying that, even when the Boss said “Big talk - now get moving. Gag the women, and make sure they haven’t wriggled loose.”

“What about the kids?”

“They’re going nowhere - I made sure of that. Get moving - I’m expecting a call at ten.”

The front door opened and closed, and there was silence downstairs. I really wanted to know what was happening , so I nudged Suzie in the ribs.


“Csseeeee,” Jenny said as she looked at us, but it was too late - I was sliding towards the open door, and Suzie was following me. I heard Heidi say “vnrlllfrdmwrsts,” as we scooted along the upper landing on our bottoms, Suzie watching me as I waited at the top of the stairs. I put my crossed ankles on the second step down and started to slide, making my way down the stairs as Suzie followed me. We were both careful to make as little noise as possible, so that when we both sat on the hallway floor we could hear the two men talking in the kitchen.

I scooted across the floor into the living room, looking up as Suzie and I made our way in. Aunt Connie and Aunt Cassie were sitting back to back on the floor, their hands behind their back and lengths of rope wrapped round their arms, chest and waist, holding them tightly together. Their legs were out in front of them, and I could see the ropes around Aunt Cassie’s boots and Aunt Connie’s ankles, as well as their legs. Their mouths were wrapped tightly in silver tape, with their hair falling down the back of the band and their necks.

Mum was lying on her tummy on the couch, her legs pulled up and her denim skirt falling down to her bottom. The rope that held her ankles to the ropes around her chest kept them in place, and I could just about make out the ropes around the rest of her body.

Granny was sitting in her favourite chair, bands of rope round her waist, tummy and chest, as well as around her neck and down the middle of her chest. Her ankles were also crossed and lashed together, as were her legs, the grey bands visible over her slacks. Her eyes were closed when she came in, but as we slid across the floor she opened them and stared at us.

“Szzzzcsssssehtttt,” she mumbled as she sat herself up, shaking her head as she saw us moving closer to her.

“Tsllrrtgnrrneee,” I said as I made my way towards her, “Iwntdddtcuuu.” She glanced nervously towards the door, as I turned and put my back to the chair before starting to slide up.

“Whtggnnnn,” I heard Mum say as she opened her eyes and turned to look at Granny, her eyes widening as she sae me push myself onto Granny’s lap. “Hgddd,” she mumbled as Suzie sat at Granny’s feet, snuggling into her legs as I cuddled into Granny.

Aunt Connie looked up as she heard Mum, and then at us, before saying “ndsnanadnsdansdasdasa.”

“I... I thought you two were told to stay upstairs. How the hell did you get down here?”

I looked at the Boss in the doorway and just snuggled in even more, listening to Granny’s heart thumping in my ear.


I looked at the Boss in the doorway and just snuggled in even more, listening to Granny’s heart thumping in my ear.

“Hey,” he called over his shoulder, “get upstairs and check the three other kids - if these two can make their way down, what are they up to?”

I looked up at Granny, whose eyes were shining over the grey band that covered her mouth as she looked back at me. “Who the heck are you lot anyway, some distant relatives of the Houdinis? Next thing you’ll be telling me is that you weren’t gagged properly.”

“Well,” Suzie said as she pushed the wad of cloth out of her mouth, making the red and black knotted scarf fall onto her dress, “we did tell you that you needed to cover our mouths.”

“Wha... How on... I don’t believe this!”

“Suzie’s right,” I said as I pushed my own gag out with my tongue. “I would have said something earlier, but I was told it was impolite to talk with your mouth full.”

Looking over, I could see Mum rocking as she heard that, shaking her head as the grey band over her mouth seemed to move. From the bedroom upstairs, I could clearly hear Jenny saying “Do you mind - we’re trying to have a conversation here?”

“Boss,” the man called down, “Not only have they got the gags out, they’ve untied their hands.” I saw the Boss put his head against the door frame, as a large smile started to cross his face.

“Out of the mouths of babes and infants,” he said to himself before calling up “Tie their wrists again and then bring those three down here - We’re going to have to keep them all together and make sure they really can’t move. As for you,” he said as he walked towards me, “You’re going to get your wish - and more besides.”

“Told you you weren’t doing it properly,” I smiled as he picked up a length of rope and stood in front of me. “Promise me you’re going to stay there for now,” he said as he looked down at Suzie.

“No problem - I’m quite comfy here,” she replied as he looked back at me and Granny. “I guess you want her to stay there, right,” he said, and as Granny nodded her head I said “Yes please.”

“You’d better shuffle forward for a minute then,” he said, and as Granny sat herself up he passed the rope round her and my waists, pulling us nice and tightly together as he wound the rope round and then between us. It was like an extra belt holding me right where I wanted to be. Taking a second length, he tied it round mine and Granny’s legs, below our knees, so that my ankles were resting against her thighs. Finally, he ran a length of rope from my wrist to the leg of the chair, which allowed me to rest against Granny while not been able to move much further at all, and fingers on each hand together with string. I could see that he had done that with Mum as well, before she rolled onto her side and smiled at me.

As I looked to the door, I saw the others shuffling in, grinning broadly as they saw me sitting there. I also heard Aunt Cassie laughing and saying what sounded like “Thsmmmggrrrlsss” through her own gag.

“Which one of you is related to this little imp,” the Boss said as he pointed at Suzie. “That is my cousin,” Alicia said in an affected accent, “and I will remind you she is not an imp, but a daughter of a very well placed person.”

“Oh, well that’s nice,” the Boss said as he looked at Alicia, “that means the two of you together may be worth more later. Sit down on the floor - and you two, stand still.”

“Way to go, Ali,” Jenny said as Alicia somehow managed to sit herself down. The masked man had only untied her ankles, so she struggled to bend and move her legs, but eventually if somewhat heavily she sat on the floor.

“Go and see if you can find some more tape,” he said to his friend, so I decided to help by saying “There’s some lovely white tape in the bathroom.” He looked at the Boss, who just shook his head again and said “Why not - she’s taught us enough lessons today. Go and look.”

As he left, Heidi nudged Jenny and said “Is your mum all right?”

“We’ve been in worse situations,” Jenny replied as the Boss picked Suzie up and sat her with her back against Alicia’s. He picked up more rope - I wasn’t sure if they brought it or if they had found our case - and wrapped it around their waists, pulling them tightly together as Alicia said “So, Suzie, how’s it going?”

“OH can’t complain - would like to be able not to complain, but can’t really. So what do you think he’s going to do now?”

“Try to keep you in one place - which might not be a bad idea. I think you two have finally made him angry enough to really secure us.”

“OH good - I like it when that’s done to me. Although... I’m sorry if I’ve upset you again, Ali.”

“You haven’t kiddo,” Alicia grunted as the Boss passed the rope between them, before knelling in front of Alicia, crossing her ankles and tying them tightly together again, “I guess this time I know to just let it happen and not blame anyone - least of all you.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re coping so well,” Heidi said as she watched the Boss bend the legs of both of them, and then tie the end of a length of rope to Alicia’s back, before taking it under her arm and round Suzie’s knees, keeping them bent as he took the rope back under her other arm and tying it in place. As he did the same thing to Alicia, the other man came back. I must have had a big smile on my face when I saw the two rolls of the lovely white tape in his hands.

“Yeah,” he said as he took one of the rolls, “This stuff will work. Right, you three - any last words?”

“Bubble gum.”




Now everyone was laughing, the five of us out loud and the rest muffled by the coverings. Even the Boss had a smile on his face before he said "Open wide” and pushed the hankies back into my mouth, then re-tied the scarf between my teeth.

I relaxed as I heard the squelchy soft sound of the tape been pulled away, and once again felt the soft pull on my cheek as he stuck it over my mouth, wrapping it round several times, before tearing it off and sticking it at the back of my neck. “Tssbtttrrrrfweefssdfsdg,” I mumbled as I watched him do the same to Alicia and Suzie.

“Make yourself useful,” the Boss said as he looked at the other man, “and use that tape to cover their hands. I don’t want them doing another Houdini act on us.”

“Do you think they’re learning,” Jenny said to Heidi as I watched him stand behind her and wrap the tape round her hands.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Heidi said as she glanced at the clock, which was showing the time now at eight thirty. “I wish we had eaten, though - I’m starved.”

“Oh, I’m sure Mum will make it up to you eventually,” Jenny said as she watched the Boss re-gag both Alicia and Suzie, before wrapping the white tape round their heads as well.

“Hwdstfflflftbbbbsbstdddsbnbdadbfgrssadasdsf,” Aunt Cassie said as she looked over her shoulder and winked at me. “I strongly advise you to be quiet, Captain Craig,” the Boss said as he smoothed the tape down on Suzie’s head and stood up, “Make those two lie face down on the floor and re-tie their ankles - very tightly this time. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

I rested my head against Granny’s chest again as she put her cheek on my hair, listening to the steady beat of her heart as the two men pulled Jenny and Heidi’s feet back and used some rope to secure them to the chest ropes - only they secured Heidi’s feet to Jenny’s chest and Jenny’s feet to Heidi’s. I could see the white gloves that seemed to be on their hands. The Boss then came back to Suzie and Alicia, and made them lean forward while he encased their hands in the special tape as well.

“Gsssrrgnnwwwwmmfdsmmsdg” Alicia mumbled as she was allowed to raise her head, and she felt Suzie putting her head against her back. “Jsttsdslxxxxx,” Granny said as she snuggled her cheek against me, “frsgngnfsffnnnn.”

I heard Jenny grunt, and looking over I could see the Boss wrapping the tape round her head, while his friend did the same to Heidi. As they did this, I could see the back of Aunt Cassie’s head as she watched them, almost as if she was thinking of something.

As he finally stood up, I heard a mobile phone ring, with Postman Pat as the ringing music. “Watch them - all of them,” the Boss said as he left the room, and his friend stood looking over us.

Well, I had no intention of going anywhere - I was perfectly happy sitting with Granny and watching as the others tried to move themselves round, even Mum as she lay on the couch. She winked tae m to show she was all right, as my eyes moved over to Aunt Connie. She looked up and nodded to me, before she seemed to concentrate on trying to do something behind her back. Aunt Cassie grunted something in recognition as the Boss came back in.

“That was your husband,” he said to Aunt Connie, “he says he’s retrieving the files right now, and he hopes you understand that he used the right password.” I looked at Aunt Connie as she nodded in reply, but when she looked back at me there was something different in her eyes, almost as if she had a big secret she could not tell anyone.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck nine as we all sat there. Heidi looked up and round at Alicia, who also seemed to nod, as if they both knew something else as well. Snug and secure as I was, this was getting maddening - there were too many secrets around the room, and I knew none of them!

That wasn’t the funniest thing, though. It was starting to get dark, and the sun was casting some very long shadows through the blinds that were covering the windows. As I looked n the corner of the room, for just a moment I thought I saw one of the shadows move, and take on the form of a man. I blinked and looked again, but it must just have been a trick of the light.

As the time passed, I saw Suzie’s head drop onto her chest, as Alicia gave her a playful nudge to try and keep her awake. Heidi and Jenny seemed to be trying to talk to each other as well, as they rolled a little from side to side. Not too much - the way they were tied stopped that, and I made a note to ask Dad if he could try that with us some day.

Dad - I was beginning to wonder where he was, when I heard the Postman Pat theme again. The Boss went out of the room, coming back a few minutes later.

“That was the Grand Master,” he said a she knelt in front of Aunt Cassie and lifted her head up. “He says you need to take a long trip - and that your family here needs to come with you.”

Now I liked the idea of taking a trip like this, but Mum shook her head from side to side and called out “NNFNFDSNNNGNNNN!”

“You’re in no position to argue,” the Boss said as he stood up. “Go and get the van - we need to be on our way.”

“Oh I don’t know,” a very familiar voice said “I rather think you need to stay exactly where you are.”


Suzie looked up when she heard the voice, from where her chin had been resting on the loop of rope holding her skirt in place around her legs, and smiled as she said “eeknnnenwdddccmmmmmm.”

Standing in the doorway, wearing a grey leather jacket over a roll neck sweater and slacks, was Lady Holderness, a smile on her face as she looked at the assembled room. “I’m so sorry I was delayed in coming to collect you, girls,” she said with a smile as she looked at Alicia and Suzie, “but I’m here now to take you home.”

The Boss stared at her as she stood there, and I actually thought he was going to collapse, the way the colour drained from his face. “Oh great,” he finally said, “another old dear to take along with us. Are you going to give us any trouble at all?”

“Trouble? I do not think you understand what I said earlier about you need to stay exactly where you are.” Lady Holderness nodded to Aunt Cassie and Aunt Connie as she walked past, before kneeling next to Alicia and Suzie. She stroked the hair away from Alicia’s face with her gloved hand and said quietly “How are you doing, Alicia - ready to go home?”

Alicia quietly nodded as the Boss said “Excuse me - I have no idea who you think you are, but I’m the one in charge here.”

“Who am I?” Lady Holderness stood up and turned to look at him, and I saw a glint in her grey eyes that told me he had made another big mistake. “Who am I? I am your worst nightmare made flesh and looking into your soul. I am the friend of this family, and the grandmother to these girls sitting here. I am the protector of their friend, whom you seem to have placed in a most uncomfortable position here. I am the one you have offended with the way you have treated my family, my friends, and the utter disrespect you have shown to them.

“I am Lady Lucinda Holderness, wife of the Eighth Baronet Holderness. I am the one who realised something was wrong when I could not contact either my granddaughter or the Craigs. I am the one who came down here personally to see what was happening, only to see I was not the only ones alerted to the problems here.”

In the hallway, I could see two men standing in the shadows.

“I am the last thing you want to see tonight, whoever you are. I am the storm bringer, the end of your plans, and if you do not surrender right now and give yourself up, I am going to be the last thing you see as a free man for a very, very long time.”

“Utllmmmgggrnnnnnnnssdadndsandas,” Alicia said as she looked at me, winking as she did so.

“I have gone through a lot tonight,” the Boss said as he stared back at Lady Holderness. “This was meant to be a simple, little job, and instead I find that my men and I have been thwarted at almost every turn, distracted by babes in arms and kids almost telling me what to do. And now a little old grey haired lady is telling me to give up. Give me one reason why I should lIstnnnnnnnn.” As he was talking, he suddenly arched his back, as I heard a bussing sound and smelt a burning smell in the air. The most surprising thing of all was when he slowly slumped to the ground; his eyes wide open under the black mask.

Both Granny and I watched him fall, and then looked over to where his friend was starting to stand up, reaching for the club that was next to him. “Young man,” Lady Holderness said as she turned to look at him, “I strongly advise you not to do that. The officer who just tazered your colleague is not alone, and they will not hesitate to do the same to you. Be smart and sit down.”

He looked at Alicia’s grandmother, then at the doorway, before nodding and slowly sitting down. “You may come in now, officers,” Lady Holderness said as she knelt next to Suzie and started to unwind the tape from her head. “Forgive me, Miranda,” she said as she looked at Granny, “but I would like to see to my girls first.”

“Ssslrgttt,” Granny said as she put her cheek on my head again, watching as a group of police came in and started to untie the others. One other person came in with them as well - Uncle Dave, who ran to Aunt Connie and said “Thank god you’re all right - all of you. John will be on his way soon, and the other two are already in custody.”

“Hi, Grandma,” Suzie finally said as the cloth was eased out of her mouth, “Sorry we couldn’t answer you earlier, but we were all...”

“A little tied up - so I see,” she replied as she hugged Suzie, then Alicia before removing her gag. I looked over at Jenny and Heidi as they were helped to stand up. “You and I need to have a little chat,” Alicia said as she looked at me, “and soon. You do realise we could all have been free and raised the alarm much earlier.”

“Btewdknddnthfbnnfn,” I mumbled as one of the policeman started to untie both me and Granny, Aunt Cassie standing up and talking with one of the officers as they did so.

“OF course, captain,” the officer said, “We will take care of everything, and take your statements in the morning.”

Granny let out a huge sigh as the tape was cut away from her mouth, revealing a thin length of rope that was holding a large bath sponge in her mouth. As the rope was cut away and the sponge eased out, she worked her jaw for a second before saying to me “Poppies? He asked you if you had any last words, and you said poppies?”


“And as for you two,” she said as she looked at Alicia and Suzie, “Artichokes? Lasagne?”

“I like lasagne,” Suzie said with a smile as she was helped to stand up, “and I was hungry.”

“It would appear that dinner has been significantly delayed,” Lady Holderness said as she helped Alicia up. “I don’t believe I have had the pleasure, however.”

“Oh forgive me Lucinda,” Granny said with a smile. “These are my daughters, Cassandra and Connie. Girls, this is Lady Lucinda Holderness, and old friend.”

“A pleasure to meet you ladies,” Lady Holderness said with a smile. “A very clever ruse - to have two passwords to your files, one of which acted as a silent alarm.”

“You cannot be too careful these days,” Aunt Connie said before saying to Jenny “Bubble Gum? And why didn’t you say anything Heidi? And just look what that tape has done to my hair! They didn’t even think of lifting it out of the way!”

“No need - I felt the situation had become ridiculous enough as it was.”

“And they say the Americans do not get irony,” Aunt Cassie said as Mum, Granny and I were finally freed. “Cassie, Cassie, Cassie - I don’t know whether to hug you and give you a big medal, or give you the telling off of a lifetime.”

“I’ll settle for some cheese and ham pizza,” I said with a smile as I spat out the cloth.”

“Food always helps,” Granny said as she stood up and stretched, “as well as a trip to the hairdresser for all of us. Lucinda, do you mind if the girls stay a little while longer? I think they deserve to know what has happened here tonight - and what caused it.”

“Yeah,” Jenny said, “Why were they so interested in the pearl necklace you gave Aunt Connie, Aunt Cassie?”

“The pearl...” I had to laugh with her as Aunt Cassie started laughing. “Look, all of you, go and get cleaned up. Jennifer, I’ll...”

“No, allow me,” Lady Holderness said. “I’ll get Mister Bridges to go to the local fish and chip emporium and bring food for everyone. Perhaps you could provide some assistance to him, Mister...”

“Dave - Dave Brown, and the pleasure is all mine, Your Ladyship.” As he accompanied Lady Holderness out, Granny looked at Mum and my two aunts.

“I think some explanations are in order all round,” she said quietly, “and I think we all need to hear this, so I’m going to suggest something we haven’t done in years.”

“The Compact,” Aunt Cassie said quietly, looking at the five of us.

“Exactly - the Craig Compact. We will initiate you five into the mystery, as your aunts and your mother were, but you must swear never to repeat what you hear, or tell others what really happened. This is a most solemn vow, girls - wall you take it?”

Alicia looked at Lady Holderness. “It’s all right, Alicia,” she said with a smile, “I was initiated a long, long time ago, and it helps if you know why what has happened happened. I must admit I am not sure it either - I know some, but not all the tale.”

“So what do we have to do, Granny?” I was watching the two masked men been carried out as I said this.

“First, eat. Second, we need to wait for your father to come home as well. After that - well, you will see.”


It was half past eleven when the five of us were led into the front room by Granny. I could see five of the dining chairs set out in a row, and each of us was made to sit down. I was at one end, then Suzie, Jenny, Alicia and Heidi. As we sat down, our hands were taken between the slats in the chair back, and our wrists tied together, palm to palm, before they were secured to the centre spar. Our ankles were then tied against the front legs of the chairs. It was easily the softest tie up we had had that day, but we did not mind.

As if we could say anything - we each had a small sponge ball in our mouths and a wide strip of white tape over our mouths, stretching from ear to ear. As Heidi's ankles were tied off, I looked to one side to see Dad and Uncle Dave standing there.

“Anything else you want to tell me, John,” Dave said to my father.

“A favour to ask - later,” he said as Granny, Mum, Aunts Connie and Cassie and Lady Holderness sat and looked at us.

“The Craig Compact,” Granny said quietly, “is a family matter, a way of telling family history and secrets so that no others may ever know. Girls, you can never tell anyone what happened here tonight in detail, nor what we are about to tell you. Lucinda swore this a long time ago, as did you father, mother and aunts, and now I ask the five of you to do the same. Will you do so?”

We looked at each other and nodded, looking at Aunt Cassie as she stood up. “I’d better start. Girls, I followed in your grandfather Craig’s footsteps with my career.”

I never really knew Granddad Craig - he died when I was very young, and I remember Granny and Dad been very sad about that.

“He worked for a branch of the forces that deals with - security issues. When I was of age, I joined that branch, and for the last few years I have lived and worked in the Indian subcontinent, gathering information.

“Recently I had heard of a new group - their name in Arabic is لؤلؤة كبيرة في الأسعار, but it translates as Pearl of Great Price. I had found out some of their intended plans, but somehow they found out about me, and so I came home very quickly. I was due to debrief next week, but - well, what I did not know was that your Aunt Connie had also heard of this group.”

Aunt Connie stood up, still rubbing at the back of her head. “As Cassie and Jenny know, I work for one of the main papers as an investigative journalist. I have, for some time, been following the money trail from a number of well known people to this group, and was about ready to publish my findings when I went on honeymoon. Last week, I got a call from my editor to say that someone had leaked the report, and I needed to come home for the story to break.

“That’s why I came home early. Obviously, someone was not wanting that story to appear, so the - men who came tonight had been hired to force me to hand over the information I had.”

“When they heard my name,” Aunt Cassie said, “they called whoever employed them to tell them, and that was when my position was discovered. I do not know what they would have done if you girls had not caused them so much trouble tonight, so for that - thank you.”

I blushed when I heard this, and when Granny said “You five kept them so preoccupied they could not do what they had originally planned - however nasty that was.”

“When Uncle Dave was forced to go to our new home and ‘retrieve’ the files,” Aunt Connie continued, “He used a false password. It opened the files, but it also triggered a silent alarm at my offices, and the police were informed.”

“The guy never got past the front door,” Uncle Dave said as we looked at him. “They then sent men tot eh bank to take care of the intruder with your father. What I don’t understand is how Lady Holderness turned up.”

“I can help there,” Alicia’s grandmother said. “I always arrange to call and talk to Alicia to let her know when Mister Bridges or I am coming to collect them. When she did not answer, and I could not get through, I came personally, in time to meet the Chief Constable with a team outside. It appears Captain Cassandra Craig has very high placed friends.

“I asked him to let me go in first, and for some reason he agreed. So I acted as a decoy to allow them to slip in. I believe you know the rest.”

“Btwhttrtthoprl,” Jenny mumbled through her gag.

“The Pearl? That is all it is - a pearl. A pure coincidence, I assure you.”

“So,” Granny said quietly, “All the police will release is that there was a robbery here tonight, and some family members were bound and gagged. The full truth must never, ever get out. If it does, we could all be in very real danger. I know it is a lot to ask ten year olds and twelve year olds, but will you keep it secret?”

We all looked at each other and nodded. “Very well then,” Mum finally said as she stood up and remove dour gags. “It is time for your friends to go home.”

“Lady Holderness,” Dad said as we were released from the chairs, “May I have a word before you go.”

She nodded and followed Dad out of the room as Aunt Cassie said “One more thing - I’m going to be sticking around for a while. I think I need to get a nice, simple, boring job now.”

“Like what, Aunt Cassie,” I said as I stood up.

“Oh I don’t know - teaching ten year olds perhaps.”

Jenny and I hugged Alicia, Suzie and Heidi before walking them to the door. “I’m going to miss this place after I leave next week,” Heidi said as she looked round, “It can be very interesting.”

“Of course we can - I look forward to it,” we heard Lady Holderness say to Dad as she stood in the doorway. “Come along, girls,” she said to the others as they all walked out, and Dad saw me yawning.

“Enough excitement for one night,” he said as he took us by the arms, “Up to bed for both of you - we’ll clear the mess up in the morning.” I nodded - it had been an exciting day, but I was ready for sleep.

“Can we play a game tomorrow, Dad,” I asked as I walked into my room.

“Not tomorrow, poppet - I think we need a family day out. We’ll see what happens in the next few days.”






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