The Cardiff Trip
“Oh now come on – full Victorian costume?”
“I kid you not, Mary Holmes – each of us was given the full works – a dress and two sets of the correct undergarments, as well as a corset made to measure for each of us.”
“It sounds amazing,” Cathy said as we sat round the large table in the local Harvester. It was Thursday morning, and Alicia and I had met up with Mary and Cathy, as well as Heidi, Cindy and Natalie, to have lunch and talk about the coming year. The girls were going to fly home on Monday, and after the weekend at Holderness Manor they had spent the last few days seeing some sights and just chilling out.
Unlike that time, we were all slightly more casually dressed. Natalie was Natalie – a loose fitting white sweater, in deference to the slightly cooler day, a long floral print skirt and (mainly because we were out in the town) a pair of flip flop sandals, the rope bracelets visible around her ankles.
Cathy was dressed in a similar way, except for the fact she was wearing her black felt boots and had a large tartan scarf wrapped round her neck, while Mary was wearing a brown sweater and jeans, with a pair of lurid pink wellies on her feet. In her defence, she had just come from the Cottrell farm that morning, where she had been helping Mark with their horse Trojan.
As for Cindy and Heidi, they were wearing grey hoodies and leggings, Cindy wearing black leather boots and Heidi brown ones. Alicia was wearing a blue checked blouse over a white jumper, grey pants and ankle boots, while I was wearing a blue track suit over a polo top and trainers.
“Yeah – pity you weren’t there,” Alicia said as she sipped her drink. Our plan for that afternoon was to have a bite to eat, and then go and catch the new comedy at the cinema. Seemed a good way to spend the last Thursday before we had to go back to school – especially this year.
“Have you talked to Alice while you’ve been over here,” Cathy said as she looked at Natalie.
“Yeah, I spoke to her last night – apparently her dad’s been talking to Brian, and there’s something cooking at home, but she said she can’t tell me about it until we get back. Fi’s grandparents have returned to San Antonio as well.”
“How’s she doing,” Alicia said as she looked over. She’d told me about what happened when she and her sister Angela had visited the girls a few weeks ago, and I could understand why she’d spent a few days with her family after that.
As for me – it was funny how this vacation had been bookended by trips to olden times. Visiting Markson Manor, and spending the weekend in the company of Jay Edwards and Mrs McPhee once again, had happened at the start, and it had ended with Gerri at Holderness Manor, gifting us the dresses. Somehow, that was not how I had expected to spend my summer holidays, but I had to admit the dresses had been, and were beautiful.
Also, it was a very different feeling been bound and gagged with a corset on – something I had not expected, especially the way it felt when the only ropes we could feel in any manner was the band on our upper chests. That had been – very different. Colin and I had talked about it afterwards, and I was already toying with the idea of wearing my corset one night to see how he liked it...
The other main thing we had done for the holidays was to actually give Mum and Dad a complete break – so while the twins went to stay with Granny, Cassie and I were dispatched to spend a week with Great Uncle Jethro down on the farm. It was an experience – we slept in a large four poster bed, and had the most enormous breakfasts before he would take us out to the local markets and shows.
He may not really manage the farm these days, but he’s still very well known in the local community, and we went to one show where he was actually one of the judges in the cattle show. He’d looked so handsome in his white coat while we had walked round the show in smart cloths and wellington boots...
We’d also spent a day, as he put it, as secured guests at the farm house. That meant after breakfast, he had tied me and Cassie up in dungarees and wellies, our legs and bodies held tightly to wooden chairs, and rolled up scarves tied into our mouths, listening to old comedy programs while he went into town on business. When he came back, we were then tied fully, and a full gag applied, while we sat with him and watched an old black and white film called The Belles of St Trinian’s.
It was very funny, including the scene where the school girls tied up their PE teacher – Miss Gossage – and gagged her with a towel while they went out onto the sports field. I tried to imagine someone trying to do that to Aunt Jo at our school – and dismissed the idea almost instantly. Only one person gets it tie and gag Aunt Jo – and it’s not one of us.
We’d even spent the night tied up and gagged so that we could not move or speak, Cassie and me facing each other on the bed as he drew the heavy curtains over the windows, and left us in total darkness. A quite unique feeling...
“Hey Jen – got any plans for the weekend?”
“Nope,” I said as I smiled and looked at Heidi. “We bought the new school clothes yesterday, so I think it’s going to be one of those busy doing nothing weekends.”
“Sounds good to me as well,” Alicia said – and that was probably the moment when we should have known it was not going to be a quiet weekend. Because that was the moment Alicia’s mobile phone went off, and our plans changed.
“Hey Dad,” she said as she answered the call, “What’s up?”
I saw her look round us, and then say “this weekend? Well, I can ask them, but it’s a bit short notice isn’t it?
“Oh I agree, it’s just – now many years has it been?
“Okay – I’ll tell them, and see if Mary, Cathy and Jenny can get away as well. See you at home Dad.”
As she ended the call, she looked at all six of us.
“Hey – what’s up,” Heidi said as she saw how worried Alicia was.
“I’m not quite sure,” Alicia said as she looked at us. “How would you all feel about a road trip tomorrow – coming back Sunday, so that you three can catch your flight Monday?”
“Road trip – sounds fun,” Natalie said as Cathy and Mary looked at me, and then at each other.
“I’ll need to ask my mums, but I don’t think it will be a problem.”
“Where to,” Mary said as she looked at me.
“Cardiff – well, a few miles outside Cardiff, but essentially Cardiff.”
“Wales? Who do you know who lives there?”
Alicia looked at us all, as she said “Grandma Bowden...”
“Simon’s mother? How long has it been since she moved down there?”
“Ten years, I think,” Dad said as we sat round the dinner table that night.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Alicia talk about her – have you met her?”
I looked at Mum, who wiped her chin as she said “I don’t think so, not since their wedding. Simon’s parents divorced before they got married, and although they both attended the wedding, and were civil enough with Lucinda and Desmond, I don’t think they talked to each other once.”
“Did Alicia tell you what was happening?”
“All she said was her dad is going down to see him, and leaving Angela and Andrew at home with their mum. Apparently she wants him to bring Alicia down, and he thinks she may appreciate us going to offer moral support.”
“I can believe that,” Mum said as she gave David and June their puddings to eat, “well, we don’t have any objections, so long as you are not too late back on Sunday.”
“Thanks,” I said as I finished my meal, “I’ll go up and call her now, then pack a bag. Apparently we have to leave early tomorrow morning to get there by the afternoon.”
“Ah, the joys of the Severn crossing,” Dad said with a smile. “On you go then.”
I smiled as I left the dinner table, Cassie talking to Mum about something, and went up to my room, taking a small case out and starting to sort some things out as the telephone rang.
“Hey Ali,” I said as I answered the call, “Dad has said yes.”
“Great – Mary and Cathy are in as well, but I need you to put in a smart dress and shoes. Apparently, Saturday night we’re been taken out to dinner by Granny Bowden.”
“Listen – Mum and Dad told me something about her. When did you last see her?”
“I was five – she used to live in Holderness, but had to move to Wales for some reason. My mum and dad never really talk about what happened – apparently, this came like a bolt out of a blue when Mum answered the phone earlier today.”
“Okay,” I said as I took my blue dress out of the wardrobe and laid it down on the bed. “Is this going to be an awkward sort of time?”
“I have no idea,” Ali said, “which is why I have a challenge for all of us. Heidi, Cindy, Natalie, Mary and Cathy have all said yes – so I hope you’re in as well.”
“Okay – what’s the challenge?”
I listened to Alicia, and rolled my eyes as I said “Well, the service station stops are going to be fun then – but yeah, I’m in. What time will you pick me up?”
“Seven tomorrow morning – see you then.”
Ending the call, I opened my underwear drawer. “Something tells me I need to pack some extra pairs,” I said to myself as I stated to sort things out.
I was sitting at the breakfast table, finishing a mug of coffee when we heard the front door bell.
“I’ll go,” Mum said as she stood up and went out, her dressing gown wrapped round herself as I heard her say “hello Simon – her bag’s here.”
“Call when you get there,” Dad said as I stood up, and put on my black leather jacket over my sweater.
“I will, and thanks,” I said as I hugged him, and then walked to the front door. I had on a knee length print skirt, the same shade of blue as my sweater, and a pair of black ankle boots, with dark hose on my legs.
As I walked out, I smiled and then got into the back of the SUV, seeing the others sitting there.
“I see we all had the same idea of dress,” Alicia said as she watched me sit slowly down. She was wearing leggings and a pair of grey suede boots, but she also had on a jumper and skirt, as did the others – Nats now bare foot.
“I think we all had the same idea in other ways,” I said as I wriggled round, the others nodding in agreement as Mister Bowden got into the car.
“Right – M4 ho!”
The problem with that approach is, to get to the M4 from Holderness, you need to go round the M25 first – an experience Heidi aptly described as “like been stuck in a tin can as it’s pulled along on a piece of string.”
We endured that part however, and soon were heading west, past Maidenhead, Reading and Newbury, before we stopped at Leigh Delamere services for lunch. Getting out of the car, we all stretched our arms up and waited until Natalie finally admitted she would need to put her sandals on, before we went into the main building.
“All right then,” Cindy said as we looked round, “what is worth eating here?”
“It’s a British Motorway service station, Cindy,” Alicia said as she looked at the various franchises, “the definition of worth eating is a dangerous thing to bandy around here.”
“Tell you what – let’s grab some pasties from the shop,” Mr Bowden said, “and I’ll go into the store to get some drinks.”
“That’s a plan – come on,” I said as we all walked towards the Cornish Pasty shop.
“How are you feeling,” Heidi said as she walked beside me.
“Not bad – the rope’s holding up anyway. You?”
She nodded as we bought a selection of different pasties, and then found a table while Mister Bowden brought the drinks over.
“Well,” Mary said as she bit into a minced lamb pasty, “at least this is more edible than a Burger King meal.”
“Hey – what’s wrong with a Burger King meal,” Natalie said.
“It’s a different beast over here Nats – trust me,” Alicia said as she bit into her meal. “So where are we going to be staying Dad?”
“Well, I think it’s a little unfair to expose your grandmother to all seven of you the whole time,” he said quietly, “so I’ve booked us all into a hotel in Cardiff. We’ll get there mid-afternoon, and I’ll drive down to see her tonight – prepare the way for all of you visiting tomorrow.”
“So your grandmother doesn’t live in Cardiff itself, Ali?”
“Nope – she lives in a little village outside Cardiff. At least, I think she does – is that right Dad?”
“Oh yes, she still lives there – so do you think you girls could find a way to amuse yourselves tonight?”
“Oh we might be able to find a way – once we get something to eat,” Alicia said as she looked at us. “So how much longer are we going to be?”
“That very much depends,” Mr Bowden said as he took a drink from his mug of coffee, “on how bad the traffic is once we get over the Severn Bridge.”
“I’ve never been to Wales,” Cathy said, “I wonder what it’s like?”
“Generally, cold and wet in my experience,” he said, “but this may prove to be the exception to the rule.”
Well, it took another two hours to get to the hotel, and when we got there we found six of us would have to share rooms. So we drew straws, and Nats, naturally, got the single room. I agreed to share with Alicia, Mary with Cathy, and Heidi with Cindy.
Once we had got into the room, I sat down and folded my skirt up, untying the ropes that had held my legs together above my knees and finally shaking them out.
“Well, you were right – nobody noticed,” I said as Alicia emerged from the toilet, the rope in her hand.
“Well, I think Dad noticed, but he won’t say anything. So where do you fancy eating tonight?”
“I saw a Tex Mex place near here – do you think we can get a proper opinion on whether or not it is any good?”
“From three girls who live in New England?”
“Who went to Texas earlier in the year and lived on a ranch, correct?”
Alicia nodded and said “well, there is that. Go on then.”
There was a knock on the door, and as Alicia talked to her dad I quickly went to the other rooms and passed on the plan. Given the restaurant was only five minute’s walk away, and we all felt a bit drained, we agreed to meet in the lobby at seven and go on from there.
“It was about as authentic as what you call pizza,” Heidi said as we walked back to the hotel, “but it was good food nonetheless.”
“So what are we going to do for the rest of the night,” Cathy said as she looked round.
“Well now,” Cindy said, “that depends on what Alicia may have been able to bring from home.”
“Oh I may have a few supplies,” she said with a smile, “as well as the ropes we all wore today. So whose room shall we go to?”
“Let’s use ours,” Alicia said as she looked at me, “everyone take the time to change, and we’ll meet up in there.”
So when we got back to the hotel, I changed into a pair of light blue pyjamas, while Alicia out on a blue nightdress that came down to her knees. A few minutes later, Mary and Cathy came in, Mary in a pink velvet top and sorts, Cathy in a pair of white silk pyjamas.
Finally, our three American friends came in – all wearing pink onesies.
“Sorry,” Natalie said, “it’s another silly bet we had. Be assured, as soon as we’re done here, this is off...”
“Oh I don’t know,” Alicia said as she took a picture on her mobile phone, “I’m sure Alice would love to see you in that...”
“Oh you are so dead, Alicia Bowden,” Natalie said as she jumped at her, only to fall laughing on the bed as Mary held her wrists together behind her back.
“So I’m thinking a little escape challenge,” she said as she looked at us, “Natalie against two of us.
“Well, we haven’t got sponges and socks with us...”
“We’ll have to settle for taping her fingers together then.”
“Nope – I have a better idea,” Alicia said as she passed Mary a length of rope, “do her hands so they are back to back please.”
“Like this,” Mary said as she moved Natalie’s arms so that her hands were beside each other, and then secured them together, taking the rope around and between her wrists as always.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Nats said as she looked over her shoulder, and then saw Alicia pass Mary one of her shoe laces. “Hey, not fair – tying the thumbs together?”
“Old school, definitely old school,” Cindy said as Mary took some more rope, and crossed Natalie’s ankles, lashing them tightly together before she bound her legs together below her knees.
“Now then,” she said as she helped Nats to sit up, and then started to bind her arms to her sides, “you get to pick the second of the three players.”
“I choose Cathy,” Nats said as the ropes at snugly above and below her chest.
“Why not – I’ve been practicing,” Cathy said as she took her glasses off, folded the legs and put them to one side, and then put her hands behind her back, Heidi doing the honours as she put her hands back to back and started to tie her wrists together.
“How did you manage to sneak so much stuff out of the house,” I said as I looked at the bag.
“I just told Dad we may want to have some fun while we’re here,” Alicia said as Cathy grunted a little, Heidi securing her wrists tightly and then binding her thumbs together with another shoestring before wrapping the rope around her chest.
“Has Sam got any better with the ropes?”
“Better than you may think,” Cathy said with a smile as she looked at us.
“Oh no,” Mary said as she took a cloth and the white tape from the bag, “don’t tell me he’s...”
“Oh yes – a couple of times now,” Cathy said. “Turns out I’m a bit of a squealer when that’s done as well.”
“Well, we’ll have to make sure we keep you real quiet,” Mary said as she pushed the cloth into Natalie’s mouth, and then wrapped the white tape around her head, before helping her to lie on the bed and hogtying her.
“You too young lady,” Heidi said as she finished binding Cathy’s legs together, and then gagged her before making sure she was secure next to our American friend. “So, who’s the third contestant?”
Alicia and I looked at each other, and then at Cindy, as Heidi said “oh – stupid question really, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was,” Cindy said as she pulled her sister’s hands behind her back, and we all got to work.
And so it was, fifteen minutes later, that we had three willing and ready victims on the bed, facing the television as I turned it on, and found a really cheesy film to watch.
“Oh – I thought you liked dance films Nats,” Cindy said as she began to tickle her sides, making her laugh into the gag as she wriggled round.
“It’s just such a pity you don’t have ticklish feet Cathy,” I said as I looked at her, “unlike Heidi here.”
“hnnddntuuHMGGDDDD” she called out as I started to tickle the soles of her feet, Cathy been bumped on both sides by them as they wriggled about.
“Oh dear, feeling left out,” Alicia said as she looked at Cathy. “Is this the right moment to tell them about your sides?”
“Watch me,” she said quietly as she stood in front of the foot of the bed, and reached over, tickling Cathy’s sides as she wriggled as much as the others.
“She is a bit of a screamer, isn’t she,” I said as Cathy laughed into the gag, making these peculiar high pitched voices. And so we continued for a while, making sure they had their fair share of treatment, before we left them alone to try and free each other.
In the end, and to my surprise at least, it was Cathy who managed to get free first, finding the knot that held her ankles to her chest and untying that with her fingers, and then wriggling round so that she loosened the ropes on her wrists enough to slip them off.
“That’s better,” she said as she sat up and removed her gag, “so anyone want a drink before we head off to bed.”
As I sat in the bed, waiting for her to come back from the toilet, there was something on my mind.”
“Just how bad are relationships between you and your grandmother?”
“I honestly don’t know,” she said as she came in, “but it must be serious to get Dad out here. I’ll worry about it in the morning...”
When I came out of the shower, I saw Alicia sitting on the bed, putting on some black tights and pulling them under the bottom of her blue blouse.
“I guess we need to look somewhat formal today,” I said as I went to my bag, and took out a pair of black jeans.
“Yup – I remember Granny Bowden always thought I should look like a proper lady,” Alicia replied as she put on a knee length blue skirt, “but I also think it may help support Dad if we do this.”
“Well, we’re there for you today – all of us,” I said as I pulled a jumper on, and we made our way down to the restaurant. Mr Bowden was already there, talking to Heidi, Cindy and Natalie. All three of them had chosen to wear dresses today, Heidi a short sleeved white dress over a black jumper, Cindy her denim bib dress over a grey jumper, and Natalie a floral print dress with a white top underneath.
“I see you all had the same thought,” he said as we sat down.
“So where does your grandmother live, Ali,” Heidi said as she sipped her coffee.
“It’s a funny place name, Chlenfit...”
“It’s actually Llantwit Major,” Mister Bowden said, “but it’s a welsh name, and in Welsh the double L is pronounced like Ch, and the TW like a F.”
“Ask the Celts if you ever see them,” he said with a smile as Mary and Cathy came in.
“What is this, Laura Ashley day,” Mary said as she sat down. She had put on a brown jersey dress with dark tights and ankle boots, while Cathy was wearing a floral smock top over a red jumper, brown trousers and shoes.
“Well, I guess we can kick back and relax later after the meeting,” Alicia said with a smile. “And besides – when do you ever wear a tie apart from work and formal events dad?”
“Point,” Mister Bowden said as he fiddled with the knot at his neck, “but I’m also here in a semi-official capacity, so here’s the plan. We go to my mother’s house, and I introduce all of you to her while we have some coffee. I may then need you all to go for a walk round the village, while she and I discuss a few things, but if that is the case I’ll suggest somewhere we can meet up for lunch.”
We all looked at each other and nodded – it seemed a sensible plan, complete with a Get Out Of Jail free card. “Sounds good,” Alicia said, “so when do we set off?”
“In about half an hour,” Mister Bowden said as he looked at his watch. “I need to get some things together, so I will see you all in the lobby.”
“You know,” Mary said as she watched him leave, “I get the distinct feeling your dad doesn’t exactly look forward to this either.”
“I need some orange juice,” Cindy said as she walked to the buffet area.
“Look, why don’t we see if there is something we can do as a group tonight – and drag Dad out with us if need be.”
I nodded as I finished my pastry, and said “let me ask at the reception desk, see what can be found...”
“so what’s on,” Alicia said as I came out to the car.
“Well, I’ve asked them to book tickets for a show at the New Theatre, but whether or not your dad will like it...”
“Surprise for later Dad,” Alicia said as he came out and opened the car. “Let’s get in and do this.”
We all got into the back and strapped ourselves in, Mister Bowden taking a deep breath as he started the car and headed west, out into the country as we headed along the coast.
Eventually, we drove into a small village, the roads lined with trees appearing over the tops of walls, and through a small high street before he turned into a driveway and pulled up outside an old fashioned country house, complete with ivy climbing up and around the outside walls and windows. Alicia looked at the house, as we looked at the door opening and a grey haired woman come out. She was wearing a white blouse, a gold scarf folded and tied round her neck like a cravat as her long hair fell over the shoulders. A long crimson skirt came down over her knees, which looked as if it was made of suede, black tights and a pair of sensible black shoes.
“Well, here we go,” Mister Bowden said as he got out of the car, walked round and kissed the woman on her cheeks while we all got out.
“Hello mother,” we heard him say, “you’re looking well.”
“Thank you Simon,” she said as she looked at us. “Alicia – you certainly have grown since I last saw you. Are these your friends?”
“Hello Grandma,” Alicia said as she walked over and hugged her. “Allow me to introduce my school friends Jennifer Craig, Mary Holmes and Catherine Harmer, as well as my American friends Heidi Strong, Cindy Elsworth and Natalie Jenkins.”
She looked at all of us and nodded – but there was a small frown on her face. “Craig? Would your father be John Craig?”
“That’s right Mrs Bowden,” I said quietly. She nodded and then said “well, you had better all come in. I will make some tea for all of us.”
We all looked at each other before Alicia led us in, through a hallway that was panelled in dark wood and into a large sitting room. We all took seats on the couches as Mister Bowden said “May I give you a hand, mother?”
“I would like that, thank you,” she said as she went out with him, Alicia waiting until they had walked off before she stood up and walked round the room.
“She is certainly different from Lady Holderness,” Heidi said as she looked at her pen pal.
“Tell me about it,” Alicia said. “You remember how I used to be towards you Jenny?”
“I try not to think about that,” I said with a smile.
“Well, I see that look in her eyes. What on earth happened to her?”
“What do you mean?”
She looked at Cathy, before she said “Look, I know you having your full name used, but I took one look at her, and the way Dad talked to her, and I realised I was going to have to be formal.”
“So that’s why you did it? I wondered,” Cathy said as she sat back and laughed. “Catherine – not even Mummy and Mum call me that.”
Alicia walked over to look at a photograph hanging on the wall, which showed a young boy standing with his parents.
“Is that your dad,” Heidi said as she came over and looked at it.
“I think so – that certainly looks like Granddad Bowden,” Alicia said as she looked at the smiling man.
“But I thought they had divorced?”
“So did I – so why is this picture still here,” Alicia said quietly as she heard footsteps, and we all returned to our seats.
“Here we go,” Mrs Bowden said as she set a tray with some teacups down, while Mister Bowden put down a second tray with a large tea pot, milk jug, sugar and a plate of biscuits. “Will you pour for me Alicia?”
Alicia looked at her father, who nodded as she knelt down and started to pour the hot brown liquid into the cups, her father passing them round before he offered milk and sugar.
“You are certainly becoming a beautiful young woman,” Mrs Bowden said as she looked at Alicia, raising the cup to her lips and taking a sip before she put it down. “Are you doing well at school?”
“I am Grandma – I have chosen to focus on Music and Graphic Arts for my main subjects of choice next year.”
“Music? An interesting choice, is it a great interest of yours?”
“To my own surprise, it is Grandma, Martin and I sing in a couple of choirs as well as in concerts...”
“Ah – so his name is Martin? I trust he is from a good family, Simon?”
“Indeed – Martin and his parents take part in the concerts at Holderness Manor, and also sang at the wedding of Anne’s American cousin.”
“I did not know Anne had an American cousin?”
I was about to say something when I saw Alicia shake her head slightly, as her father replied “I did write to you and tell you, mother.”
“May I ask what you do for a living, Mrs Bowden,” Natalie said as she looked round.
“I write articles and novels,” Mrs Bowden said as she looked over. “I also have income from other sources, but I manage to live fairly well.” Looking at Heidi, she said “so you are Alicia’s friend?”
“I am – we were penpals for a few years, but we have visited each other on a few occasions over the last year.”
“And your mother and father?”
“I live with my mother – I have not seen my father for some years,” Heidi said quietly. “I also live with Cindy and her mother.”
“I also have two mothers,” Cathy said, “and I see no problem with that.”
Mrs Bowden merely raised an eyebrow, as Alicia’s father said “Lucinda and Desmond have asked me to pass on their best wishes to you mother, as have Angela and Andrew.”
“And how is my grandson – growing bigger?”
“Very much so – he now attends a nursery a couple of days a week. Angela returns to her course next week as well, which is why she was unable to come on this trip.”
“I cannot believe how much your family has grown up,” Mrs Bowden said as she looked at Alicia, “it seems a long time since you and Anne walked down the grass at Holderness Manor.”
“Well, it is our Silver Anniversary next year,” Mister Bowden said, “so I hope you will be able to come back for that.”
“I’m not sure if I will be welcome,” she said quietly.
“Mother, what happened happened. Perhaps it is time to come back and build some bridges...”
I looked at Mrs Bowden, wondering what was going through her mind, before she said “A discussion for another day perhaps. Simon, I trust you are prepared to help me with some things?”
Nodding, Mister Bowden said “Girls, my mother and I need to discuss some family matters. If you would care to go for a walk, I will meet you at the White Lion at – shall we say 1 o’clock?”
“I think we can be finished by then,” Mrs Bowden said. “I wonder if you and the girls will come and join me for the service tomorrow, and then we go out for lunch after that?”
We looked at each other before Alicia said “we would be delighted to, Grandma. We will see you later, Dad.”
Standing up, she waited as we put our cups down and stood up, before we walked out of the house and down the driveway. There were a few cars parked on the road, as we stopped on the outside of the wall.
“Okay,” Cindy said quietly, “can I say something without you taking offence?”
“Let me say it for you,” Alicia said quietly, “Grandma Bowden is a mildly homophobic woman.”
“Well, I would have used different words,” Cathy said as she rubbed her arm, “but yeah. I need something to take the taste of that tea from my mouth – let’s go into the village and find a cafe.”
The village of Llantwit Major is just that – a village, with a couple of shops, a fair scattering of bars and three churches, as well as the tea shop that the seven of us went into. It had a rear garden, where we sat round a large table while someone brought out a tray of cold drinks to us.
“OOOkkkayy,” Alicia said after she had taken a long drink, “that was educational. Guess there used to be a bit of her in the way I acted as well.”
“She does seem to keep herself closely guarded,” Heidi said as she bit into a cake, “but can I tell you who she reminded me of the most?”
“No – who?”
“Your mother,” Heidi said as she looked at Cindy, “before we really got to know her.”
“I thought that as well – it’s almost as if she was hiding something. Can you remember anything about when your grandparents separated Ali?”
“Not really – I just know there was a big row with my parents over something. I could always ask Dad when we meet up, see if he’s willing to tell me.”
“Look, let’s talk about something else for a while – I need to clear my mind of this,” I said quietly. “Any word on the big day yet Ali?”
“Big day? What big day?”
“You know – Angela, Eddie...”
“Not a chance,” Mary said with a laugh, “Mum and Dad laid the law down with big brother. No plans to be made until he has (a) graduated, (b) got a job, and...”
The sound of a burglar alarm going off made all of us look round.
“What on earth...”
“It’s all right,” the cafe owner said as she came out, “it’s a false alarm. The general store alarm tends to go off at this time every day – there’s a loose wire somewhere, but nobody fixes it.”
“Guess these things happen over here as well,” Natalie said as she sipped her drink, and then took her mobile phone out.
“Bit early for a call isn’t it?”
“It’s Alice – I’ll be over there,” Natalie said as she walked to another table.
“Hang on a minute,” Heidi said as she looked back into the main part of the cafe, “I don’t believe it.”
“Don’t believe what?”
We all turned and looked as I said “Isn’t that Chloe?”
We looked at the red headed woman, wearing a red v-necked jumper, a pair of denim shorts and black leggings, striped socks and Doc Marten boots, who was standing with a dark haired young man, ordering some drinks.
“I think it is,” Heidi said as she walked into the cafe, and we heard the delighted greetings before they came out.
“Well, this is quite the coincidence,” Chloe said as she looked at us, “This is my fiancée James. James, you know Cindy and Alicia of course, but this is Jenny, Mary and Cathy, Alicia’s friends.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” James said in a similar accent to Heidi and Cindy.
“So what brings you here,” Chloe said as they sat down.
“My grandmother lives in the village – Dad is with her just now, and we are meeting up later for lunch. More to the point, however,” Alicia said, “what are you two doing here?”
“Ah – my fault,” James said with a smile, “We’ve been spending the last week of our holidays in Wales, and stopped here for a bite to eat and a rest. So I am afraid it is pure coincidence – and the fact this is the only teashop in the village – which has ensured we met today.”
“But I for one am glad,” Chloe said as she took her glasses off and wiped them. “When do you return, Heidi?”
“Monday – 2.30 out of Heathrow.”
“Ah bien – we are the same flight then,” Chloe said with a smile as she looked round. “I have a small matter to take care of on Tuesday.”
“Why don’t you join us for lunch,” I said, “I’m sure Alicia’s dad would be glad to see you. At the very least, you could talk about the twins.”
“Ah yes – young Bart and Sarah. They are growing so quickly...”
The White Lion Inn was a nice little bar, with a white front and bay windows, and with Chloe and James accompanying us there was no problem with getting in and taking one of the large window tables for ourselves.
Five minutes later, Alicia’s dad came in, and it was obvious he had not had a very restful time for that morning.
“James? Chloe? What are you two doing here?”
“En Vacance, Monsieur Bowden. Can we get you a drink?”
“What I really need is a large whisky,” he said as he sat down, “but I’m driving, so a small soft drink please. I’m also starving – what’s on the menu?”
“So what did Grandma want, dad,” Alicia said as he glanced down the list of food available.
“Hmmm... Oh, some business matters that involved investments your grandfather made. I need to untangle them and try and cash them in. Not difficult, but...”
“Dad – what went wrong between Grandma and Grandpa Bowden?”
We watched as he put the menu down and sat back. “Well, I really don’t want to go into everything,” he eventually said, “but my father made a few very poor business decisions, and it rather spectacularly rebounded – hurting your grandmother a great deal in the process. I know it sounds stupid, but after it happened, she could not face her old friends in Holderness anymore, so she took herself down here.”
“And where is Grandpa now?”
“As far as I am aware, he is in London,” he said as he looked at the menu again, “right – what do people want?”
We ordered some food and ate together, while Mr Bowden talked about anything except the family. I could see Alicia was still curious, but decided not to say too much about it.
“Anyway,” he eventually said, “Will you be staying here tonight Chloe?”
“Mais oui – the local hotel has a room we have booked, and we can head back tomorrow afternoon to stay in a hotel near the airport.”
“And what do you have planned for tonight?”
“Well,” I said, “I hope you don’t mind, but we’ve booked tickets for a show.”
“Oh – which one?”
“The Rocky Horror Show...”
He looked at all of us, then shook his head as he said “All right then – you can all go, but I need to do a few things in the hotel...”
“Now THAT was fun,” Heidi said as we left the theatre, and started to walk back towards the hotel.
“I agree,” Cathy said, “that was quite a show. And the dancing in the aisles...”
“Hey, anyone want a drink while we walk back,” Mary said as she looked at an off-licence that was still open.
“Not for me,” I said.
“Or me,” Alicia said, “we’ll wait outside for all of you.”
As the rest of the girls went in, Alicia looked at me and said “Guess it wasn’t just my heightened sense of superiority at play back then.”
“Oh come on Alicia,” I said as I nudged her ribs, “you’re not your grandmother and you know it.”
“I know – but you know what they say about apples and trees...”
“No – what do they say?”
“I say keep quiet, and come with us.”
We both looked at the two men, casually dressed, who were standing in front of us as Alicia said “I beg your pardon.”
That time, we both saw the gun he was holding, the two of us looking at each other as Alicia said “you got that frequent kidnap card to hand?”
“I think it’s in my purse,” I said as I started to open it – but the two men were most insistent, taking our arms as we were walked round the corner, and forced into the back of a car.
“Well, here we go again,” Alicia said as our wrists were secured together in front of us with a zip tie.
“Keep quiet,” the woman driving said as we set off, into the dark and the gloom.
“Where are you taking us,” Alicia said as she tried to move her wrists.
“You’ll see,” the man in the back with us said, so we sat quietly, unable to see out of the darkened windows as we drove for about an hour.
“Ah,” Alicia said as we came to a stop, and the door to the car was opened, “I think we’ve arrived.”
“Do you think they have satellite television here – I rather wanted to watch that film tonight before going to bed,” I said as we were walked to the front door of a building, and the woman banged on the door.
As it was opened, both Alicia and I looked at each other, as her grandmother said “yes, what is it? Who are you – and what are you doing with my granddaughter and her friend?”
“Get back into the house, Mrs Bowden,” the woman said as we were pushed into the house, Alicia’s grandmother realising for the first time we had our wrists secured together in front of us with a plastic strip.
“How dare you treat these girls like that – release them at once, or else...”
“I don’t think you realise the position you are in,” the woman said as she pointed a gun at Mrs Bowden, “put your hands on your head, Mrs Bowden, and walk into the front room.”
She looked at us, and then nodded as we were made to follow her, and then sit either side of her on the couch as her wrists were secured, and then we all had our ankles forced together.
“Make sure the phone is disconnected,” she said to one of the two men, who went out into the hallway.
“Look, you’re making a huge mistake,” Alicia said as she looked at her, “our friends were in the shop when you took us. They’ll have raised the alarm by now...”
“No they won’t.” The woman smiled as she said “I would imagine by now, your father, Miss Bowden, will have found them and gave them the message I sent as you were invited to join me. I rather think they will be back in the hotel, waiting for me to call him and tell him what he needs to do.”
“I demand to know what the meaning of this is!”
“Grandma,” Alicia said quietly as she looked at her, “you need to calm down. I rather think these people mean business, and the last thing that we need to do right now is antagonize them further.”
“Your granddaughter is a wise young woman,” the woman said as the two men came back in. “Just sit still, and this will all be over soon.”
She then looked at me as I said “I think we have a right to know why you are treating us like this, don’t you?”
“And you are?”
“Well, Alicia’s friend, my employer is very keen to understand why your friend’s grandmother is trying to liberate certain funds, given they were under the specific control of his grandfather.”
“I have had nothing to do with him for years,” Mrs Bowden said, “and I want nothing to do with him.”
“Well, that is unfortunate – because the funds you’re trying to liberate are not yours to do this with.”
“My employer,” the woman said as she took out a mobile phone and looked at it. “Excuse me a moment...”
“Alicia, and – Jenny, is it? How can you be so calm?”
“It’s not like this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to us, Grandma,” Alicia said as she tried to twist her wrists round.
“Not the first... How many times?”
“I’ve lost count,” I admitted as I looked round, “but the one thing I can say is the best way of getting through this is to stay calm, and not give them any reason to make us even more immobile.”
She looked at both of us as the woman came back in. “Now, I think we need to make a phone call,” she said as she started to dial, “you will speak to your father first, Miss Bowden, and then your grandmother will talk to him. I only want you to tell him where you are, and that you are safe, and not to involve the authorities. Understand?”
Alicia nodded as I watched one of the men fold a blue scarf into a band, and then tie it tightly over my mouth. I already had a fairly good idea these people had no real idea what they were doing, but I said nothing, playing along as she put the phone to Alicia’s head.
“Dad? Hey, I guess you’ve figured out what has happened?
“Jenny and I are both fine – will you tell everyone else that we’re okay?
“Thanks – look, don’t worry, neither of us are going to do anything to cause more trouble. I think Grandma wants to talk to you now.”
The woman took the phone away as the second man tied a folded blue scarf over Alicia’s mouth, the two of us looking at each other as she put the phone to Mrs Bowden’s head.
“John? Have you got any idea what these people are threatening me and the girls for?
“What did you just say?”
She looked at the two of us, and said “No – no I do not want that to happen. The last thing I want is frruuttmmmgddd.”
One of the men had put his hand over her mouth as the woman took the phone back.
“Mr Bowden? You already know what we require. Are you in a position to give us what we want?
“I appreciate it will take time. You have until six tomorrow morning. I will call then.”
As she ended the call, she looked at all three of us, and then at Mrs Bowden.
“Go to the car,” she said to one of the men, “and bring the supplies bag in. We need to make sure these three cannot raise the alarm.”
“Allow them to speak,” Mrs Bowden said as she looked at us, the woman nodding as the scarves were pulled down from our mouths.
“Thanks,” I said as I moved my mouth. “So, what are you going to do to us?”
“Make sure all three of you stay where you are,” the woman said as we watched a large bag being dropped on the floor, and she opened it, taking out a pair of scissors and several lengths of rope.
“Look, you have guns,” Mrs Bowden said, “you do not need to tie us up if we cannot fight someone with a gun.”
“And if we were staying in the room, I would agree – but we have things to do as well,” she said as she cut the zip tie away from my wrists, and then guided my hands behind my back. I felt her bind my wrists together, but she merely passed the rope round my wrists and forced them together before she tied the rope off.
I knew Alicia had noticed, but I shook my head from side to side as the same thing was done to her. We both watched as Mrs Bowden had her hands tied behind her back, and both of us recognised the signs of someone who thought they would not be able to move after she tied the ropes off.
“Take them up to one of the bedrooms, make them stay there and keep them quiet,” the woman said, the men cutting the zipties from our ankles. They then made us stand up as we were all made to walk up the stairs and into Mrs Bowden’s bedroom.
It was furnished – well, like you would imagine a normal grandmother’s room to be furnished. Floral duvet cover, flowers in a small vase on the top of a chest of drawers, pictures of cats on the walls.
“Lie down on the bed,” one of the men said to us, so we contrived somehow to lie face down on the bed beside each other, Alicia and me looking down as they tied our ankles the same way as our wrists, while Mrs Bowden just kept her head in the duvet cover.
I heard her whispering “Oh God I knew this would come back to haunt me...”
“Don’t be afraid, Grandma,” Alicia said as she looked at her, “we’re here together, and we’ll be all right?”
“Yes we will,” I said as I watched the man pull the scarf tightly over Alicia’s mouth, and then tied the scarf firmly over mine. We both watched as the second man took a brown scarf from Mrs Bowden’s wardrobe, and used that as an over the mouth gag on her.
“Whrrudngtths” she said as she looked at him.
“Don’t move,” he said as he looked at his partner. “They’ll be safe enough up here, we check them every ten minutes, all right?”
He nodded as they went out, closing the door behind themselves and leaving us to look at each other.
I looked at Alicia and Mrs Bowden, and rubbed my chin on the duvet, forcing the cloth down as I said “I don’t know about you, Alicia, but I want to talk. You agree?”
Alicia nodded and quickly pulled the scarf down over her own mouth, before using her teeth to pull the gag off her grandmother’s mouth.
“Where... Where did you learn to do that,” Mrs Bowden said as she looked at us.
“Tell you some other time grandma, like when this is over – and we need to keep our voices down. We only have a few minutes before they come back and realise the gags were less than useless.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Grandma,” Alicia said, “it might help us if you can tell us what you know about these things they’re talking about. Is that what Dad came here to talk to you about?”
Mrs Bowden slowly nodded as she said “I knew they would come back and hurt me one of these days, but not like this – and not with you involved.”
“Why? What on earth are they?”
Mrs Bowden looked at both of us, and then said “When... When your grandfather left, he left behind a number of investments in my name, which I was unable to do anything with. I did not know where he was, I could not touch them – but then a letter came with his name on.”
She looked behind her back and wriggled her fingers, before saying “I did not know what to do, so I asked your father to come, Alicia. He opened the letter, read it, and said some share certificates needed to be traded, but he would need to give me...”
“Hey – how did you get those gags off?”
Alicia and I looked at each other as the man came in, but decided doing an impression of Patty, or even of Cassie, was not a good idea at that moment in time.
“Open your mouth,” he said as he came over to me, and then pulled the scarf between my lips, tightening the knot as I closed my mouth over it. I watched as he did the same to Alicia and Mrs Bowden, before leaving us alone again.
“Kppcclmmgrdnm,” Alicia said as she looked over her shoulder, and started to wriggle her wrists. I did the same, and before long we could feel the ropes loosen, but then the man came back, so we stopped struggling for a few minutes.
“Make it every half hour,” we heard the woman say, “they’re going nowhere.”
We looked at each other as the door closed again, and then both Alicia and I pulled our hands free, pushing the scarves out of our mouths with our tongues at the same time.
“Grandma,” Alicia said as she loosened the scarf and eased it out of Mrs Bowden’s mouth, “that’s a long story. Look, we don’t know when they’ll be back, but if we hear them we’ll have enough time to put these back and put our wrists back through the ropes again – so forgive me if we don’t untie you just yet.”
“I understand,” Mrs Bowden said, “but how can you remain so calm?”
“Two reasons,” I said. “First, guns aside, these three are real amateurs.”
“And secondly, Grandma,” Alicia said with a smile, “they have no idea just how much trouble they are really in.”
“They’re in trouble? Forgive me Alicia, but we’re the ones they are holding hostage?”
“Yeah – and our bags are downstairs or I would make a call,” Alicia said quietly as we heard footsteps outside, and kept quiet for a moment. When they moved away, Alicia continued “the best thing we can do is nothing.”
“You are both far too calm,” Mrs Bowden said as she struggled, “just how many times has this happened to you?”
“Well,” I said, “we’ve certainly been held hostage by the same robbers on several occasions, either together or apart.”
Her eyes opened wide as Alicia continued “and then there were the times when visiting Heidi in the US – and at your home Jenny.”
“Oh of course – The Pearl of Great Price, and others...”
“And your father knows?”
“All our parents know,” I said, “we were held hostage one weekend in my house, and then in the house that Bobby’s family live in now.”
“The Hall? Who would do that to you?”
“Well, it started...”
We then heard footsteps coming closer, so we out the scarf back in Mrs Bowden’s mouth, regagged ourselves and put our hands back through the ropes.
It was the woman who looked in this time, walking over and taking a careful look.
“Those ropes have worked loose,” she said as she untied our wrists and ankles, and eased the scarves down to our necks.
“You may go to the toilet, one at a time – you first Mrs Bowden,” she said as she took Alicia’s grandmother by the hand, the two of us rubbing our wrists as she did so and watching the man standing in the doorway.
“Well, this is another fine mess we’ve got ourselves into,” I said to Alicia, who laughed as she nodded her head.
“What time is it?”
“About one in the morning,” I said as we looked at the clock, “I guess we’re in for a sleepless night.”
Nodding, Alicia said “hey Grandma – what church do you go to?”
“The Church of Wales, why?” Mrs Bowden said as she came in.
“Well, we might get some sleep during the sermon then,” I said as Alicia was taken out, and then me. When I came back in, the woman looked at the ropes.
“This won’t do any good – go and see if you can find any duct tape.”
“Duct tape? Why would you...”
“It’s all right Grandma,” Alicia said, “we will cope.”
“Good – you can take this,” the woman said as she threw a roll at Alicia, “and tape your grandmother’s hands behind her back.”
“Yes, she must,” the woman said.
“Just turn to the side and put your hands behind you back, palms together – it will be all right Grandma,” Alicia said as she tore the end of the roll free, and wrapped it tightly round her grandmother’s wrists, tearing the tape off and smoothing it down before she knelt and taped her ankles together, then her legs above her knees.
“Your turn,” the woman said as she looked at me, “tape your friend up.”
“Well, I guess we’re in for a sticky time,” Alicia said as she handed me the roll, and put her own hands behind her back.
“Yeah – I guess we can’t do a lot about it except duct and cover,” I replied, the two captors looking at me as if I’d lost my head – and so did Mrs Bowden.
“Well, you were bound to say something like that,” Alicia replied as I taped her ankles and legs, “but on the other hand, every cloud has a silver lining.”
“Yeah – and so do we now, don’t we Grandma?”
“Have you both – oh, oh now I get it,” she said as she actually laughed, while I sat down and let the man tape my hands and legs.
“Just lie down on the bed,” the woman said, the three of us lying next to each other before the man used strips of the duct tape to cover our mouths.
“Check every half hour again,” the woman said as the door was closed, the light turned off first while we looked at each other.
I looked over at Alicia, who looked at the clock and said “lltssss... btfermnnsstocrdfff... firteemnntsssprppshntm... nsthllatfrlhtstgfffpherr... btnnn?”
“Dgssss,” I said as I turned to look at the window, which was slightly open. A few minutes later, the curtain seemed to blow a bit more. Mrs Bowden turned and looked, her eyes widening as someone slipped into the window, landing noiselessly as he walked over to us.
“Okay, okay – you can get the tape off now, if you all keep your voices low.”
Mrs Bowden watched amazed as we both began to crinkle our mouths, getting the tape loose and then using the duvet to remove it.
“You might want to help my grandmother James,” Alicia whispered, “this is new to her.”
“Of course,” James said as she reached over with a gloved hand, and started to peel the tape away from Mrs Bowden’s mouth. At the same time, we heard the doorbell, and then a female voice saying “Ah – my apolojies, Mesdame, Monsewer, but my var ‘as brukeeen doon, and I need to use your tallyfon?”
“Who on earth is that,” Mrs Bowden said as the voice said “But zis si a joke, yes? Shirley those are not real goons?”
“That,” James whispered, “is someone you three definitely should not meet tonight. Please remain calm and lie still – whatever you hear, you must remain in this room until I say it is safe to go out.”
“But she is in danger,” Mrs Bowden said as we heard the voice say “Rupes? You do not ‘av to...”
“Get her in the front room,” we heard the woman in charge say and then a door close.
“Where’s Dad,” Alicia whispered.
“Waiting nearby for the all clear,” James said as we heard muffled voices from downstairs, and then a shout and the sound of something breaking. “While we wait, Mrs Bowden, I have been asked to tell you he’s not waiting alone.”
“About twenty minutes ago, I am afraid you may...” We heard a sound like a soft phut, and then the woman say “Whet er you doeeen with that teppmmmmgdddd...”
“What is going on down there,” Mrs Bowden said as we all started to hear moans. “It’s beginning to sound like a re-run of I Claudius down there.”
“A more apt metaphor than you might think,” James said with a smile as there was a muffled scream – and then a moment’s silence. We then heard the female intruder say out loud “Dear Lord and God in Heaven – what are you?”
“Your worst nightmare,” we heard the other female voice say, and then there was a whimpering sound before we both heard Chloe says “James...”
“Stay here until I come for you,” James said as he walked to the door, “perhaps you can free Mrs Bowden while you wait?”
“Free me? How can they...” Mrs Bowden then stared at Alicia as she brought her hands round, and said “roll onto your side Grandma, and I’ll get your hands free.”
She stared at me as I wriggled slightly, and then brought my own hands round, sitting up as I started to unwind the tape around my ankles.
“So who is waiting with Dad, Grandma,” Alicia said as she helped her to sit up, Mrs Bowden bringing her hands round and rubbing her wrists as she shook her head.
“I think,” she said quietly as there were more footsteps on the stairs, and she looked to the door as it opened.
“There you all are – it’s over.”
“Hey Dad,” Alicia said as Mr Bowden came in, “sorry we got into trouble again.”
“Should have seen it coming – you all here, and what your grandmother asked me to do...”
“Where is he Simon?”
Mr Bowden looked at his mother, and then said “downstairs – he’s talking to the police. Your three kidnappers have been taken away.”
“And the young man?”
“Left with – well, I’m not allowed to say who she is, but she made sure not only they were caught, but that the person who employed them was named. Barry Hampton is taking care of him as we speak.”
“He’s Detective Superintendent Hampton now, Grandma,” Alicia said, “is it safe to go down now?”
Mr Bowden looked out of the door, and talked to someone downstairs, before he said “Yeah – and sorry Mum, you’re going to need a new coffee table.”
Mrs Bowden just looked at Alicia’s father as we all walked down the stairs, looking in the front room as a man in a grey leather jacket and grey slacks who was squatting down, looking at the shattered remains of the coffee table.
“Oh my,” Alicia said as he stood up and turned round, looking at us. He looked like an older version of her father, with a high forehead and grey hair to the side.
“Well, you have grown, haven’t you,” he said with a smile. “Hello Angela.”
“Robert,” Mrs Bowden said, “how have you been?”
Alicia nodded as she said “Hello Grandpa Bowden.”
“Do I want to know what happened here Simon? I saw the woman as they took her out – she looked as if something had terrified her.”
“Probably best you don’t ask Dad,” Mr Bowden said as he looked at us, “the key thing is we stopped Miller from getting his revenge on you by hurting Mum.”
“Miller? Dad, who is Miller?”
“I’ll explain everything,” the older man said, “first, you need to call your friends, tell them it’s over. From what Simon tells me, they will have been waiting.”
“I’ll do it,” I said as I picked up my phone, stepped into the corridor and dialled a number.
“Jen? Is it over?”
“Yeah, it’s over Heidi – and I’m sorry if you lot got a scare – again.”
“It’s becoming something of an occupational hazard where your families and mien are concerned,” Heidi said before I heard her say to everyone else “it’s over, they’re fine.”
I could hear the cheers before Heidi came back and said “So are you coming back tonight?”
“No idea yet – things just got a bit interesting here. You lot get some sleep – I’m sure I’ll see you all later in the morning anyway.”
As I went back in, I saw the older Mister Bowden looking at me.
“So you’re David Craig’s granddaughter? I can see him in your eyes, now that I look properly.”
“I’m sorry – you knew my grandfather?”
“Yeah – look Angela, is there any chance of a cup of tea? I don’t think any of us are going to get any sleep until the air is cleared a bit.”
“Definitely got my spirit,” he said as he smiled at Alicia, who just shook her head as her grandmother went to the kitchen. “So, let’s get some things out of the way first. Yes, I’m Alicia’s grandfather – and yes, my name is Robert Bowden. No, contrary to what your father told you, we are not divorced – rather, I have had to live apart from your grandmother for some considerable time.”
“I’m truly sorry I’ve had to tell a little white lie,” Mr Bowden said as he looked at Alicia, “but there was a good reason.”
“Okay,” Alicia said as she nodded her head. “Let’s try a different question. Who were those three, who was Miller, and why did they want to make you do something Dad?”
“Well, let’s deal with Miller first,” Mister Bowden said. “When your grandparents separated, your grandfather was working as a financial director for a large financial firm which was headed by Miller. They were known to be involved in money laundering for a number of the larger criminal groups...”
“How were they known to be doing that?”
“Because that was why I was working for them,” her grandfather said. “I was an undercover operative for the Fraud Office – and I had just about uncovered everything when they found out who I was. I found out in time, but I had to take steps to make sure your grandmother was kept safe – so I was arrested with the rest of the suspects, tried with them, sentenced with them – and then retired to a place in London.”
“So you were what – some sort of secret agent?”
“Not quite – I leave that sort of thing to Desmond and your grandfathers,” he said as he looked at both of us. “Anyway – Miller was convicted and sent down for a long stretch, but he swore revenge on me. So your grandmother and I had to act out the idea of her not knowing what I’d done, and coming down here out of... What was the reason again Angela?”
“Shame,” Alicia’s grandmother said as she brought through a tray of mugs, and allowed us to take one each before she took the last one and put the tray on the floor. “I knew what your grandfather was doing, Alicia, but nobody else did. Not at that time anyway – so I played the wounded, disgraced wife and came down here to live.”
“What is it about my family,” Alicia said as she looked at me, shaking her head. “Okay – so why today?”
“Ah – I needed to raise some money to do some repairs to the back of the house,” Grandma said. “To do that, I needed to sell some stocks, but when I checked I discovered they were in your grandfather’s name.”
“I think you and I are going to be having words about all this later,” Mr Bowden said with a smile, “but I had to act as intermediary between these two all this time. So I had to come down today, with his signed authorization to sell the shares, and fill out the forms on your grandmother’s behalf.”
“So did you know the reason they did all this?”
“Nope – I knew my father had been in court, I knew he was based in London, but until today I had to communicate in writing with him. Your grandmother told me the divorce bit. Anyway – what I did not know, or your grandmother, was that these particular stocks were, while legal, flagged by what was left of Miller’s team. So when I deposited the forms with a broker before meeting you for lunch, a flag was raised, and he sent his ‘friends’ down. They snatched you, used you as leverage along with your grandmother, and I called the only other person who might know where to find your grandfather.”
“Let me guess – Grandpa.”
Mr Bowden nodded as he said “the next thing I knew, there was a knock on my room door, and...”
“I scared the life out of him,” Alicia’s grandfather said with a smile. “Desmond called me, and I believe he made one other call.”
“The young man – you called him James Alicia – and that woman with the ridiculous ‘Allo ‘Allo accent. Who were they?”
“Friends of Desmond’s,” Mr Bowden said, “and that’s all I can tell you. The point is, we rescued you, and Miller is never going to bother you again. The young lady got the female leader to confirm it was Miller who organised this before they were taken away.”
“Well,” I said, “in the pantheon of people we’ve met, Mister Bowden, these kidnappers were rank amateurs.”
“Trust me, Dad – they would know.”
Mrs Bowden had said nothing, sipping her tea as she listened, but as she heard her son say that she said “All right – if we’re talking about secrets, just how did you get out of those ropes and that tape?”
“Well, by not panicking,” Alicia said with a smile, “and – well, practice.”
“Come on Angela – they’re Holderness as well. Obviously the old traditions still go on.”
I watched as Mrs Bowden shook her head, and did something I had not seen all day – she smiled.
“Well, it’s getting late – you mother and I have a lot to talk about Simon, and I think these two young ladies could do with some sleep.”
“Yeah – will you still be here tomorrow Dad?”
“As I say – your mother and I have a lot to talk about. How about I cook lunch tomorrow?”
“You do know we have a few friends with us?”
“Alicia, my dear, how long has it been since you have had my roast beef dinner?”
Alicia thought for a moment, and then said “all right, we accept. We’ll be here after the morning service, grandma.”
“I don’t think I’ll be going anyway – I’ll see you all for one.”
“My grandfather,” Alicia said as her father drove west out of the city. “I’d forgotten how nice he was, you know – and I guess now I’ve slept on it, I understand why he did what he did.”
All of us were wearing blouses and skirts – and even Natalie had condescended to the idea of wearing a pair of flat heels as we entered the village, and then pulled up outside Mrs Bowden’s house. As we got out, Mrs Bowden opened the door – and this time she was smiling.
“Come in, all of you,” she said as we went into the front room. The ruined coffee table had been cleared away, and the smell of roast beef was coming out from the kitchen.
As we sat down, she said “first of all, I owe you Catherine, and you Cindy an apology for my manners yesterday. I’d let my anger rule me for so long, it meant I was doing and saying things I really don’t believe without realising it.”
“Not a problem, Mrs Bowden – and for the record, I hate being called Catherine. Please, call me Cathy.”
“Cathy it is then,” she said with a smile. “Now, lunch is going to be a little while yet, so I was wondering if you could help me with something?”
“Sure Grandma,” Alicia said with a smile, “what?”
“Can you show me,” she said quietly, “just how well you are secured at times? I knew of the games that the Holderness family played, but I’m curious to see how you play them now.”
“Did you ever play them Grandma?”
“Not in the way you might think...”
“Well, how about the girls show on me?”
“I had a different idea – I could see how easily you got out last night, but I’d like to see how it could really be done. And... I’d like to experience it as well.”
“Your bags are in the car – I presume you want the Adidas holdall?”
“Please,” Alicia said as she looked at us. “We’re going to need a willing volunteer.”
“Oh go on – I’ll do it,” Cathy said as Mister Bowden brought the bag in, and opened it.
“Well, if you’re sure Grandma... You saw we could use our hands last night?”
Mrs Bowden nodded as I took two sponges out of the bag, and handed them to Cathy.
“Well, we need to stop the chance of them being used first,” Alicia said as she took out a roll of duct tape, Mrs Bowden’s eyes widening as Cathy made two fists and they were covered in the tape, before a pair of socks were pulled up her arms and taped in place.
I looked at Mrs Bowden, who was wearing a long sleeved white blouse and a floral print skirt that came to over her knees, while Alicia said “so, ready to try this Grandma?”
“Why... Why have you... Oh, I see. It stops you using them to help someone.”
“That’s right,” Alicia said as she gave Mrs Bowden two sponges, the older woman watching as her father went into the kitchen. A few moments later, both had their hands covered, and Alicia was securing their wrists together behind their backs.
“I presume it was your grandparents who taught you these things,” Mrs Bowden said as she felt the rope go around and between her arms.
“Well, amongst others,” Alicia said as she took the rope round her grandmother’s waist, locking her wrists into place as Cathy twisted round. She then used more rope to tie their arms to their sides, taking it round their stomachs, cinching the band between their arms and their bodies.
Looking over at the rest of us, Alicia raised an eyebrow out of sight of her grandmother. We knew what she was thinking, and I suspect the others were thinking the same thing as me, but how to tell her?
Fortunately, Cathy was doing her best mind reading impression as well, as she said “I think you had better secure our legs next Ali.”
“Yeah – legs. Sit down, both of you, next to each other.”
We watched as Cathy sat next to Mrs Bowden on the couch, Alicia kneeling down as she crossed and tied together Cathy’s ankles, and then her grandmothers. She then folded back their skirts and tied their legs together below their knees, before she stood up and looked at them both.
“Well,” Mrs Bowden said as she wriggled round, “it’s – different. You girls like this a lot of the time.”
“No comment,” Mary said, all of us laughing as Alicia said “all right – time for you both to be quiet. Gran, how silent do you want to be?”
“Well,” she said as she tried to move her arms, “how silent can you make me?”
“Oh she had to ask,” Heidi whispered to me as Alicia said “Let’s take this a stage at a time then.” Going to the bag, she took out two white cloths and folded them, putting one in Cathy’s mouth as her grandmother watched.
“Nothing else? You girls managed to push tape from your mouths, and push scarves out – I think I can do it with this.”
“This is stage one Grandma – ready?”
Mrs Bowden looked at all of us, then opened her mouth as Alicia pushed the cloth in, making sure she didn’t do anything to make her grandmother panic. She sat there for a few minutes, probably getting used to the taste, as Alicia found a towel strip, tied the knot in the middle and then used it as a cleave gag on Cathy.
“Ntneemr,” Cathy said as she looked over, Mrs Bowden nodding and then allowing Alicia to put a second knotted strip into her own mouth.
“Hkkk – nwhhtt,” she said as he watched Alicia walk back to the bag, and then we all heard the sound, like wet wallpaper been removed from the wall.
Cathy sat upright as Alicia wound the white tape tightly round her head, covering the towelling, the shape of the knot and her lips visible under the band. She looked at Alicia’s grandmother, who nodded as she too had the tape wrapped round, pressing her hair down.
“Don’t worry Grandma, your hair will be fine,” Alicia said as she tore the tape free and smoothed it down.
“Mwreeee?” She wriggled round and mumbled “nwthsssqutt...”
“Well – not quite done yet Grandma...”
She raised an eyebrow as Alicia took out the duct tape, and wrapped it round their heads as well, keeping it over the white band. Finally, she took out two silk squares, both black, folded them into bands and tied them over the tape, the two of them looking at each other as they tried talking.
“Dinner should not be too long – what are you girls talking about?”
“Oh nothing much, Grandpa,” Alicia said as her father and grandfather came in, and looked at both Cathy and her grandmother.
“Well now Angela – I see the family traditions do go on after all. I don’t think I’ve seen you like that since that day in Venice.”
“Hnndntusdrrr,” I faintly heard Mrs Bowden say as she shook her head.
“Is that the time Mum went back to collect some traveller’s cheques, and found the intruder in your hotel room? I remember you telling me about that when you got back from that trip?”
“That’s the one – you don’t mind if I tell the girls, do you Angela?”
“Not really - the hotel we were in faced one of the main canals, and our window opened out onto it, so your grandmother thought it would be all right to leave it open, let fresh air into the room.
“Anyway, we were going to go to St Mark’s Square when she realised we needed some more money, so she had to go back up to the room to fetch some traveller’s cheques. I waited in the hotel lobby.
“And waited. After half an hour, I went back up to the room – and there she was, lying on the bed. Her red jacket was on the floor, and she was wearing a matching red velvet skirt, white blouse and red knee length boots – only she also had bands of rope around her ankles and legs, and her wrists were secured behind her back. She also had ropes holding her arms to her side – not the same way as you have done, but...”
“Sorry,” he said with a grin. “Anyway, she also had a red silk scarf tied into her mouth, and the look she gave me! Turned out someone had climbed in through the window, she surprised them, and the intruder tied her up before escaping back out of the window.
“Still, that was some time ago – comfy, Angela dear?”
She wriggled round, and then to everyone’s surprise nodded.
“Okay – Alicia, will you help us set the table please? We’ll give you a fifteen minute warning so that you can untie both of them, all right?”
“Robert,” Mrs Bowden said as she wiped her mouth with her napkin, “you most certainly have not lost your touch in the kitchen.”
“Well, hopefully you’ll get to see it more now that I’m moving back.”
“You’re getting back together,” Alicia said as she looked at her father.
“Yes – the reason we had to be apart is gone, but we have a LOT of catching up with each other to do,” she said as she held the hand of Alicia’s grandfather.
“On which note,” her dad said, “Lucinda and Desmond want you both to come and stay for a couple of weeks. Time to rebuild those bridges Mum – we can come and see you at the manor house as well.”
“I’d like that,” she said with a smile, “I’d like that a lot.”
“Now then – pudding. I’ve made my infamous bread and butter pudding – the secret is in the marmalade...”
“You met Simon’s parents? That must have been a real meeting of the minds. Did they try to kill each other?”
“Not quite,” I said as I sat with Mum and Dad, a little while after I got home. “You’ll find out eventually, so forgive me if I don’t say too much.”
“Secrets – all right, if we’re going to hear, we’ll hear in good time,” Mum said as she held her mug of cocoa. “So did you have a good time anyway?”
“Yeah – Heidi’s back at the Manor house, and they return tomorrow. And it’s school on Wednesday.”
“Aw, poor you,” Mum said with a smile. “Listen – before I forget, some of the mothers are going to be going away for the weekend at the end of the month. Means you and the older girls have to watch the kids for a night.”
“Just give us plenty of warning,” I said with a grin.
“Right you – bed,” Dad said, me nodding as I went up. When I got to my room, I heard my mobile phone go off, and looked at the caller.
“Hey Ali – how are things at your end?”
“Interesting – Dad told Angela and Mum about what happened. To say they’re surprised is putting it mildly.”
“So – school?”
“Yeah – School. Here we go again...”