The Price of Friendship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting here, trying to get my homework done, there’s only one word to describe how I feel.

 

Bored.  Bored, bored, bored, so bored that it makes Dad talking about work sound like the most exciting thing in the world, that’s how bored I am.

 

I guess I can’t expect every day to be like that wonderful, fantastic day before Heidi left to go home.  After all, nothing could match the amazing things that we did, al we said to each other, everything we found and discovered, from the moment Dad woke me up and stuck the plaster over out mouth to when we all sat in our finest clothes, and watched the amazing firework display that Lord Holderness had set up.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the same place, playing with us and doing the things we did - nothing could ever match that.

 

Even so, going back to school wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.  I mean, we didn’t have any new teachers, unlike Jenny - the way she talks, you’d think half her teachers had up and left with no warning during the holidays.  No, I mean that I missed seeing Suzie and Alicia every day, and playing our games with them.

 

On the other hand, for some reason everyone wants to be my friend now, and is asking if I can introduce them to Suzie.  I’ve no idea why that is - I mean, Suzie’s a great friend, but suddenly she’s made me one of the most popular kids in the class, and I’m not sure she deserves all of them trying to be friends with her.

 

There’s another reason as well - Alicia’s big sister came to babysit for us a week or so ago, and she brought Alicia and Suzie with her for a sleepover.  She brought someone else as well - Suzie’s brother, Bobby.

 

Bobby Holderness - I have heard Suzie talk about her from time to time, but when this thirteen year old boy with flaxen hair turned up, I was shocked.  Not because he was ugly, but because he was a complete and absolute idiot when it came to girls.  Well, we taught him a few lessons, and he learned - learned fast as well.

 

I was hearing Jenny talking about something she was studying in science class - jentiz or something like that, and how it meant that some things get passed down from mother rot daughter, and so on.  I wonder if what we do is the same sort of thing - Granny played these games, Mum and Dad did, and now so do we.  Same for the Holderness family - so I want to embrace it and learn more and more.

 

As for Bobby - he’s cute, and he has a nice smile, but he’s a demon tickler, and if he tries that with me again then believes me I will have no choice but to tickle him right back again - whatever I need to do to do it.

 

I’m sure Suzie will be thinking the same thing - when he was tickling me that night, and her, I could see the look in her eyes that told me she was going to get him back for everything he was doing, and I’m sure he managed it.

 

Anyway, as for me, I have to get this homework done tonight, or else the special treat Granny has promised is not going to happen.   She says she has something very very special to show me, and she won’t tell me a thing about it.  That’s Granny - likes to keep things hidden from all of us...

 

 

 

“So where are we going Granny,” I said as I sat beside Jenny in the back of Old Bessie.  We were both wearing shorts and t-shirts, but we had a scarf tied over our eyes as a blindfold and our hands taped together behind our backs to keep us from trying to remove them.

 

“You’ll see soon enough,” she said from in front of us as we travelled down the road.  She had collected us about half an hour before, and we had absolutely no idea where we were.  Eventually, we felt the car stop and heard a door open, then Granny’s hand on my arm as she said “Let me help you out, Cassandra.”

 

One day, she realise I don’t really like been called that - although when we’re tied up by people she sometimes forgets.  At any rate, we could feel gravel under our feet, and then as Granny said “watch your step” we could feel wood under our shoes.

 

“Where are we, Granny,” I said as she made us stop somewhere.  I didn’t hear a reply, and Jenny said “Granny?”

 

“Welcome to Casa Craig,” we heard a familiar voice say, and the blindfold was pulled off to reveal Aunt Cassie standing there, wearing a long sleeved blue tunic over some matching pants and sliver sandals.

 

“You finally found somewhere to live,” Jenny said as she looked round the bare large room.

 

“Yeah,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile, “I finally found somewhere to live.   What do you think - enough room for you two tykes to writhe round in?”

 

“I’m not sure,” I said with a grin, “after all, we need an awful lot of room.”

 

“Well, let’s put it to the test,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile as she cut our hands free.  “Mum, do you have the gifts I haven’t had a chance to give them yet?”

 

We turned to see Granny come in, carrying two small piles of brightly coloured clothes.  “I thought you might like to try on what I used to wear out East,” aunt Cassie said with a smile as we were each handed one.  “Go on, put them on.”

 

Mine was a bright shade of orange, with gold embroidery on the front and side, while the one Jenny had was black with silver highlights.  They consisted of a pair of loose fitting pants, and the tunic which came down to our knees and had elbow length sleeves.  We also had a matching long scarf, which we wrapped around our necks and shoulders in the same way Aunt Cassie had hers.

 

“All right, ladies,” Granny said as she held three lengths of rope in her hands, “Hands behind your back and let’s get you secured.”

 

We smiled as Granny tied our wrists together, and then our thumbs, before making sure our hands were pulled tightly against our backs.  We all sat on the bare floor and watched as Granny tied out ankles together, then our legs below our knees, then our thighs as she lifted out tunics up and we all bent our knees.

 

“The idea is to see who can get to the far side of the room first,” Granny said as she passed some rope round my arms and tummy and pulled them together, making sure she cinched the coil between my arms and chest.  She did the same to Jenny, but for Aunt Cassie she wound the rope above and below her chest.

 

“Why can’t we have that,” I said with a slight moan.  she’s got you there, Mum,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile, so Granny came and tied some rope around my and Jenny’s shoulders and arms as well.

 

I laughed as she made me lie down, roll over onto my stomach and pulled my legs up to secure my ankles to the ropes around my chest, then Jenny and then Aunt Cassie.

 

“So how are we going to be gagged,” I said as I looked at the other two.  “Like this,” Granny said as she pushed small cloths into our mouths, then held them in place with thin strips of towel and finally wrapped the special tape around our mouths.  I felt wonderful as I lay there, knowing I could not speak but determined to win the contest.

 

you may begin,” Granny said as she stood back and watched us as we tried to move ourselves round. The rope felt wonderful, fixing the soft material of our outfits around ourselves as we started to slowly wriggle across the floor, heading towards the open doors that seemed to lead to the back of the house.

 

Aunt Cassie looked like she was going to win, but she stopped and rolled onto her back instead, which gave me and Jenny the chance to overtake her.  We laughed through our gags as she looked back at us, her eyes shining as Jenny and I raced to the door.

 

Well, what can I say?  Of course I won, although it was a close run thing.  As we rolled over and laughed, the only sound that came through was “MMMMSAAAaaaaa” as Granny came over and started to tickle us on our sides.

 

“Once Aunt Cassie has this place fixed up,” she said when she eventually stopped.” Then you can come and have sleepovers here, all of you.  But for now, keep it a secret from the other girls, all right?”

Mdmdmmm,” I mumbled as I nodded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the Tuesday that week that Jenny came in, a black look on her face as she threw her bag on the couch.”

 

“What’s wrong Jenny,” Mum said as she sat down and folded her arms.

 

“It’s Dr Wolfe,” she said as she looked at us.  “She’s given the entire class a detention on Friday.”

 

“What for?”

 

“All because one girl was talking when she was describing the experiment.  Ali isn’t very happy either.”

 

“Do you want me or Dad to have a word with her?”

 

“No, it’s all right,” Jenny said, “It’s only for an hour - and that’s fine.”

 

“Pity,” I said as I looked up from my book, “Aunt Cassie is bringing Suzie over - her Grandma is picking her up, so Aunt Cassie is going to collect me as well.”

 

“Guess I’ll see her later then,” Jenny said as she opened her bag.  I could not wait for Friday - it was going to be so much fun!

 

As it was, there was still three more days of school to get through, but as I say at the breakfast table on the Friday morning I just wanted to go, get to three thirty and meet up with Aunt Cassie.  I knew Suzie’s school ended at three, so she would pick me up from the school gates afterwards.

 

“I’ll come and collect you from school,” Mum said to Jenny as she finished her cereal.  “I want to take you shopping for some new shoes anyway.”

 

“Yeah, well it will be nearly five by that point,” she said as she stood up and headed for the door.  I followed her out, but saw that she had stopped at the doorway.  Looking in, I saw that Dad was sitting on the couch, watching the news.

 

“Police are still looking for an escaped prisoner, who absconded from Wormwood scrubs prison earlier today.  The man is not described as been dangerous, but the public have been told not to approach him.  Gerald Coates is six foot tall, heavy build, with a strong North England...”

 

Dad turned off the television set and stood up, looking at us as he turned round.  “Nothing for you two to worry about,” he said with a smile as he hugged us both.  “Just enjoy your day, and we’ll see you both tonight.”

 

I looked at Dad’s face, and he seemed worried about something.  “Are you sure everything’s all right, Dad,” Jenny said as she looked at me.

 

“Yes, everything’s fine.  Get your bags and I’ll drop you off on my way back from work.”

 

Well, Dad dropped me at the school gates, and waved me off as I threw my satchel over my shoulder.  From there it was like any other day, nothing spectacular, and at three thirty I came out to find Aunt Cassie and Suzie waiting for me.  Suzie was in her school uniform, her blue v-necked sweater over a white polo shirt, grey skirt and socks and black shoes.  Her red hair was tied in two pigtails, which stuck up and out at each side, and she smiled as she called out “Hi Cassie.”

 

Aunt Cassie was wearing a long brown suede skirt and waistcoat, over a long sleeved white peasant blouse.  I could see short leather boots under the hem of the skirt, as she took my bag and said “Come on, you two - I’m going to take you back to Cassie’s house and wait for her mum and Jenny there.

 

“Does this mean I can get out of doing my homework,” Suzie said as we walked towards the car Cassie was using, an old Skoda Octavia with slightly bashed panels.

 

“No it does not, Suzanne - you can do it while Cassie does hers, all right?”  Aunt Cassie smiled when she said that, as we climbed in the back seat and buckled in.  Aunt Cassie got into the driver’s seat and set off down the road, for what should have been a fifteen minute trip down the road.

 

So when after five minutes the car sputtered to a halt, Aunt Cassie looked in a worried way at the fuel gauge.  “That’s funny,” she said to herself, “I thought I had more fuel in the tank than that.  You two stay in the car, and I’ll see if I can see what the problem is.”

 

Aunt Cassie got out of the car. And as she popped the bonnet and it lifted up Suzie nudged me in the ribs.  “You aunt seems a bit on edge today - she wasn’t exactly the life of the party in class today.  Is everything all right?”

 

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong,” I said as I saw a grey van drive past and pull in somewhere in front of us, “After all, she may just be a little bit tired, and that’s all.  She has just decided to buy a house after all.”

 

“That would not make somebody cranky, surely,” Suzie said as she pulled a face.  “Dad never has problems like that.”

 

“Well not everyone has a dad who is the heir to a country estate - or a brother who is the next in line.  How is Bobby anyway?”

 

“Worse than ever - he insists on getting me to play games with him whenever he can, and hang the ‘No School nights’ rule we are meant to have.  Cassie, I’m telling you he’s becoming an even bigger pest than...”

 

Our talk was interrupted by the car bonnet been closed, and we saw that a woman neither of us recognised was standing next to Aunt Cassie.  She was a bit taller than her, with long flaming red hair, and was wearing a grey sweatshirt and pants.  She was also carrying a coat over her arm, wore dark sunglasses, and was saying something which Aunt Cassie was listening to very carefully.

 

Eventually, she got back behind the driver’s seat, and the stranger got in beside her.  “Small change of plans, girls,” she said as she looked over her shoulder.  “We’re going to go to my new house first, and spend a little time there.  This is a kind lady, who has offered to call for a repair man when we get there.”

 

“Hello girls,” the stranger said as she looked at us.  “I hope it’s not a problem me tagging along.”

 

“Don’t you have your AA card, Aunt Cassie,” I said as I looked at her.  “I left it at home - don’t worry girls, just sit back and relax,” she said as she started the car, and we drove off.  I noticed the grey van had moved on as well, so Suzie and I just talked in the back seat while the two others sat in front of us.

 

When we got to Casa Craig, Aunt Cassie turned off the engine, and then said to the other woman “For goodness’ sake, they’re just kids.  Why drag them into this?”

 

“These ‘kids’ caused us a great deal of trouble, Captain Craig, and they need to be taught a lesson as well.”  She removed her coat from her arm, and I watched Suzie’s eyes widen as she saw the gun in her hand.

 

“All three of you, very calmly and slowly, get out of the car and walk up to the house.  Don’t try to run off or of anything, you don’t want whoever you leave behind to be hurt/”

 

We both looked at Aunt Cassie, who nodded as she said “Do what she tells you to, girls.  If we do as they say, then maybe it won’t be so bad.”

 

Now, I had been tied up and gagged many times, but this was the first time I had ever been kidnapped.  Do you know what the first thought that went through my mind was?

 

“Where’s Scooby?”

 

I felt like Daphne as we stepped out of the car, and walked up to the front door.  I expected Aunt Cassie to unlock the door, but instead it was opened from inside   There was a man standing there, in an outfit I recognised - white overalls, leather gloves and heavy boots, and a balaclava covering his head.

 

“House secured,” he said as we walked into the hallway.  “Where do you want these three?”

 

“Put them in one of the bedrooms upstairs, and make sure they are secured - I do not believe the tales that have been told of them, and I’m sure their aunt will keep them in line.” 

 

“Look, I know who you are - these are innocent kids.  What could you possibly want with them?”

 

“Do you question our motives Captain Craig?  If nothing else, Miss Holderness here can fetch a small fortune to recuperate the losses you and your sister have inflicted on us.  Now, move,” she said as she waved the gun in the direction of the staircase, and we started to walk.

 

“Aunt Cassie,” I said as we started to climb the staircase, “Are these the same people who held us when you came to dinner that night?”

 

“I think they are from the same group, Cassie,” she whispered back at me, “so I need you both to do exactly what I tell you - and this time, no sneaking off to try and find out what is happening.  Stay in the same room as me at all times, all right?”

 

Well, we nodded, but no way was I going to stay in one room for all the time if there was fun to be had.  So even as we were made to go into a bedroom, and sit down on a large double bed, I was already making plans.

 

We watched as the man closed the door, and then picked up some scarves that had been dropped on the floor.  “Nice to see you have already been through my things,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile as he took three long green chiffon scarves and walked behind us, crossing our wrists behind our back one by one and tying them tightly together.

 

Walking round in front of us, he knelt down and used three blue rectangles to bind our ankles together, side by side, and then stood up to collect three handkerchiefs.  Aunt Cassie opened her mouth and allowed him to push the scarf in, and then pull a red bandana between her lips.

 

Jstltmmdtgrls,” she mumbled as he held the handkerchief in front of our mouths.  I allowed him to push the scarf in, as did Suzie, and then we bit down on the cotton bands as they were pulled tightly into our mouths, pushing the cloth down on our tongues as he secured the ends together at the back of our necks.

 

“Now stay there,” he said as he left us alone in the room.  Aunt Cassie looked at us both and said “dntmmvvplsss,” but I thought I knew better.  So I managed to stand myself up, and started to shuffle on my feet towards the bedroom door.

 

Cssdsdnnnnt,” I heard Aunt Cassie call out but I was far too sure of what I was going to find, as I reached the door and turned my back to it, pushing it open slightly with my hands.  Llbrgtbk,” I said to the other two, but as I turned round I ran straight into a big, masked man who I had met before.

 

“I told you,” he said as he looked over his shoulder, “I told you she was trouble.”  He picked me up and carried me back in, putting me on the bed as four more people came in.

 

One was a man I did not recognise, as he came in wearing a suit, shirt and tie but with a gun in his hand.  He was followed by three other people, with their hands on their heads, and I let out a moan as I recognised them even with the blindfolds tied over their eyes.

 

“MMMMMMMMMM”

 

Jnnnnffrr?”

 

“Cassie?  Oh my god, they got you three as well,” I heard Mum say as the door closed on them.

 

“Right, you three,” the stranger said as he turned round, “take your blindfolds off, slowly.”  Mum reached up, the elbow length sleeves of her cardigan falling down as she did so, and pulled the folded scarf off her eyes.  “Oh god,” she whispered again as she saw Aunt Cassie, Suzie and me sitting there, “they really got your first.”

 

I watched as Alicia and Jenny removed their blindfolds, Alicia looking nervously from side to side.  They were in their uniforms, while Mum had a white blouse under her cardigan, a knee length pleated skirt and kitten heeled black leather shoes.

 

“Take their gags out,” the masked man said, “they might as well talk while you bind all of them up - and for goodness sake, do it right.”  He smiled at us as he turned and left the room, while the stranger removed the scarves from our mouths.

 

“Well, Jennifer, this is another fine mess we find ourselves in,” Aunt Cassie said as she worked her jaw.  “I guess they decided to have a second go at me - I’m just sorry you all got dragged into this again.”

 

“So this is all about that group again - the Pearl of great Price?”  As she said this, I could see the man pull Mummy’s hands behind her back, as she stared at us.

 

“Looks that way - they managed somehow to sabotage my car and stop it on the way to your house, and this woman made her intentions very clear.  What happened to you?”

 

“I’ll tell you in a minute,” Jenny said as she hugged Alicia.  “Ali, you need to be brave now.  Remember what we talked about before - this is a game, all right?”

 

“Of course it’s a game,” I said brightly, “just like all the other times right Suzie?”

 

“Right, Cassie,” she said as she smiled at me, and I could see Alicia start to relax a little as Mum and Aunt Cassie just looked at me.

 

“we had the detention with Dr Wolfe,” Jenny said as the man finished tying Mummy’s wrists together,” and at the end of it she insisted on walking with Alicia and me to the front doors of the school.  Mum was sitting in the car, and waved at us as we came out.

 

“Dr Wolfe then got called by someone, so we walked down to the car and opened the door to climb in.  That was when Mr Bennett showed up.”

 

“Mr Bennett? Who is he?”

 

“You’re looking at him,” Alicia said as she felt her own arms been pulled behind her back and I saw the stranger start to bind them together with rope.  “He walked up to the car, cool as could be, and while we got in the back he got in the front and produced a gun.  He said that you three had already been taken, and that we were going to join you. He then told Mum to drive off, and as she did so we saw Dr Wolfe run out of the school after us.  It was almost as if she was trying to stop us.”

 

“She was,” Aunt Cassie said as Mr Bennett tied off the rope around Alicia’s wrists and moved on to Jenny, “That was what she was put in the school for.”

 

“What?” Mummy said as both Jenny and I looked at her.  “She was placed there?  Cassie, what have you not told us?”

 

Aunt Cassie sighed as she looked at all of us.  “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, but I’d hoped the rumours we had heard were wrong.  The escaped prisoner - the one who was on the news this morning - he actually was sprung from prison a week ago.  You’ve already met him - he was the leader of the gang that invaded your home in the holidays.”

 

“You mean the guy who Cassie ran into,” Mummy said as the three of them were sat on the floor in front of us.  “I recognised his voice when he opened the door.  So you knew something was been planned.”

 

“I’m afraid so - the intel I was given was that an attempt was going to be made to kidnap the girls, so Jo - Dr Wolfe arranged the detention to try and thwart them at her end, and I thought I could ensure both Cassie and Suzie were safe.  We knew they had agents planted somewhere, but we had no real idea where.  I see they had at least one other teacher at your school, girls.”

 

“Well, at least that explains why he insisted on rope work,” Jenny said as he crossed and tightly bound her ankles together.  “What,” she said as she looked round, “not the best time for jokes?”

 

“Ha ha, very funny,” Alicia said as she watched her ankles been tied as well.  “Miss Craig, just how much trouble are we in?”

 

“Hopefully, they want me, and the rest of you are a diversion.  We did manage to...”  Aunt Cassie stopped and looked into space for a few minutes.

 

“Aunt Cassie, are you all right?” Jenny said as she watched Mummy’s ankles been tied.

 

“Oh, no...” Aunt Cassie whispered as she looked up at the man called Mr Bennett.  “What are you going to do to us?”

 

“A message will be sent to your grandmother,” Mr Bennett said as he looked at Alicia, “asking for a sizable ransom for the return of all of you, and with very specific instructions as to how to deliver it, and who to deliver it to.”

 

“You do know our families are going to be expecting us soon,” Mummy said as she looked at all of us.

 

“Indeed - and they will be told to do nothing.  For now, we need to keep the six of you here, nice and secure and quiet.”

 

“Oh, does that mean you’re going to gag us properly,” I said, finally get to have a chance to speak, “because what you did earlier was not nearly good enough.”

 

“CASSIE!!!”  Aunt Cassie, Alicia, Jenny and Mummy said in unison as they looked at me.  “I get the feeling you just said something you should not have,” Suzie whispered into my ear as the door opened and the woman who had brought the three of us to Casa Craig walked in.

 

“Ah, I see our next group of guests has arrived,” she said as she looked at Mummy and the other two.  “Sorry I wasn’t here earlier, but I hope you got your homework done.”

 

“Miss Curtis?” Jenny said with a shocked expression.  “Oh god, how many of the teachers were kidnappers?”

 

“Only us two - but I suspect your Chemistry teacher was more than she seemed as well,” she said as she untied the scarves around our necks and folded them into pads.  “For now, you all need to shut up, so open your mouths and allow us to silence you properly.”

 

“Oh good,” Suzie said to me, “finally we get to be properly quiet.”  I nodded as the woman pushed the cloth into my mouth, and then Suzie’s before she picked up a roll of grey tape.

 

Cvfrrhhrr,” I mumbled, hoping she would put something over my hair, but to my dismay she only tore off three strips and then pushed them down over our mouths, before gagging Aunt Cassie in the same way.   We then watched as Alicia, Jenny and Mummy each had a scarf stuffed into their mouths, and then tape pressed over their lips.

 

“That’ll hold them,” she said as she and Mr Bennett turned and started to walk out of the room, “after all, they don’t want to get one of their own hurt, do they?”  As they closed the door, and we heard it been locked, I started to work my mouth and try to push the cloth and tape off and out.

 

Rllldntlrndthhh,” Aunt Cassie said to Mum as they watched the four of use moving our jaws round, competing with each other to see who could be first to be ungagged without help from anyone.  Eventually, it turned out that the winner as Alicia, as she pushed the scarf in her mouth right out and watched it fall to the floor, the tape landing with a soft thud.

 

“Right,” she said as she turned round and wriggled her fingers, “want a hand, Jenny?”

 

“No thanks,” Jenny said as she pushed the scarf out of her mouth, the tape still hanging to her jaw.  “You take care of Suzie, while I ungag Mum.  Come on Cassie, Aunt Cassie - I thought you would have beaten both of us!”

 

Well, that was it - we looked at each other and the race was on, at breakneck speed while Alicia and Jenny helped Suzie and Mummy.  It was with some satisfaction that I managed it first, and then said “Let’s get untied!”

 

“No,” Aunt Cassie said as she shook her head, “let’s not this time, Cassie.  Also, let’s keep our voices down - the longer they think we’re helpless, the more chance we have.”

 

“Of what,” Alicia whispered.

 

“Finding out what they’re up to - I’ve got a horrible feeling we’re not the last party guests.”

 

I looked at Aunt Cassie as she said this.  “Do you mean that we may have more of us coming to play as well,” I said as a big smile spread across my face.  I could see Aunt Cassie’s eyes widen a little as I said this, before she slowly said “I think we may have Cassie, but I also think it is very, very important that we take a little while, just to catch our breath and to talk.  I know you want to have fun, and I’m sure we can, but this is a little different from the other times you have been tied and gagged.”

 

As she was speaking, Alicia was trying to twist her hands round.  “Miss Craig,” she finally said, “won’t the people you used to work for know what is going on?  More to the point, how well do you know Dr Wolfe, and just what is going on?”

 

“Dr Wolfe - oh you mean Jo?  We used to work together.  When I quit to take up the teaching post, I was told that she was going undercover at your school - Cassie - that’s a great trick, but seriously, keep it around your wrists for now.”

 

I looked up sheepishly as I lowered my wrists from my mouth.  I had managed to wriggle my bottom through my arms and bring my hands round to my front, and had tried to unpick the knot in the scarf.

 

“Aw - but I want to try and find out what’s happening.”

 

Jenny sighed before saying “Cassie, what’s happening is that gang that held us all hostage that night has captured us again.  You remember how upset their gang leader got when you and Suzie hopped into the room, and we were carried downstairs?”

 

“Yeah - he did seem a bit flustered, but I enjoyed that.  Why - do you think he wants to play with us again?”

 

“That would be fun,” Suzie said as she sat against me.

 

“Anyway, we want to keep them as calm as possible.  You know what the masked man is capable of, but these two new arrivals are unknown actors for me.”  Aunt Cassie looked over at Alicia.  “To answer your questions, Alicia, if Jo saw you been taken off then my former employers are going to know something has happened.  The problem we have is that, the moment they know something has happened, their priority is not going to be us.”

 

“It’s not going to...  It’s going to be Connie, isn’t it?”

 

Aunt Cassie looked over at Mum and nodded.  “One of them, yes.  After that night, they suspected the Pearl of Great Price would seek revenge - they’re not the sort of group that take things like this lightly.  Anyone involved in that night is going to be considered a target - so they are going to make sure Connie is safe, as well as mum - and your grandmother.”  She looked at Alicia and Suzie as she said this.

 

“Grandma - but she only stopped them.”

 

“Exactly - Connie and I did them some real financial and resource damage, but Lady Holderness made them look very, very small indeed, and they would not have liked that one tiny bit.  The thing they will use to their advantage is that it was never made public, so only they will know what’s happened.”

 

“Oh god,” Alicia said quietly, “but they said they were going to make a ransom demand.  Why would they do that if they want Grandma as well?”

 

“Good question - but for all these reasons, we need to...  Cassie, put your hands behind your back, now.”

 

I wriggled my bottom back over my hands as we heard footsteps outside.  We kept quiet as they stopped outside the door, and then moved off again.

 

“Anyway, Alicia,” Aunt Cassie continued, “Once they know they are secure, then I’m sure they will send someone here to find out if this is where we are been kept.  So, I know how hard it is, but you need to keep quiet and not try to antagonise them or it could make things worse.”

 

“How much worse,” Jenny said as she put her head against Mum’s chest.  “Seriously, how much worse could it be?”

 

I saw Mum look at Aunt Cassie, before she said “I think you’d better tell them the story.  They took the Craig Compact oath, so they have a right to know.”

 

“Story?  What story?” I said as I looked at Aunt Cassie and Mum.  Aunt Cassie nodded before she started.

 

“I was a year older than you, Cassie, so Connie would have been thirteen.  Dad and your father had gone off on a father/son Scout weekend, so there was only me, Connie and Mum at home when the two of them broke in.

 

“They were actually two women - both fairly young, dressed in catsuits with stockings over their heads, but they surprised us as we were eating lunch.  I remember the day well because we were going to go to a garden party at the Officer’s Mess, so we were all smartly dressed.  I had on a light blue short sleeved dress, with a thin white belt around my waist, white tights and black flat shoes.  Connie was wearing a white blouse and knee length blue skirt, with a matching jacket over the back of the chair, tights and leather shoes with a kitten heel.

 

“Mum was wearing a yellow dress, with a yoke type collar and tiered shoulder caps, and matching shoes.  At any rate, one of the women pointed a gun at us and made us all stand up, while the other tied our hands together behind our backs with our wrists crossed and then gagged us with tape.”

 

I laughed when I heard that.  “You must have thought that was going to be easy to get out of.”

 

“I did,” Aunt Cassie said with a sad smile, “and that was the problem.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  They used strips of tape over our mouths, and then marched us up to Mum and Dad’s bedroom, where they made us sit on the bed and tied our ankles tightly together, side by side.  They then left us there while they started to search the house. 

 

“Well, we looked at each other, and I thought it was just someone who had come to steal money.  It only took us about five minutes to work the gags free from our mouths, and I clearly remember Mum telling us not to try and do anything.

 

“But you are a bit too much like me, Cassie, because I said something like ‘”I just want to see what they are doing’ and hopped off the bed, then towards the door.  Mum and Connie just looked at me, a look of real worry on Mum’s face as I turned and opened the door with my bound hands, and then hopped out of the door.

 

“Well, I really did not know any different, so when I managed to get to the bottom of the stairs and hopped into the front room, I thought they would be just looking through the trophy cabinet, and wanted it surprise them.  Instead I saw that they were looking through Dad’s private records.  I certainly surprised them, but what I did not expect was the fast that one of them just scooped me over their shoulder as they both came back up the stairs.

 

“’We told you to sit still,’ one of them said as they carried me back into the room and made me stand up.  The one who had carried me then picked Connie up and carried her over to me, putting a gloved hand over our mouths as the other one went downstairs and returned with a heavy bag.  When she dropped it on the floor, we saw lots of coils of rope drop out.

 

“We both watched as the women walked behind Mum and would about sixty foot of rope around her arms and chest, pulling them tightly into her side.  ‘She’s just a kid, she doesn’t understand,’ Mum said as she did this, and Connie looked at me with a look that said ‘We are in real trouble now.’

 

Within ten minutes, she had rebound Mum’s ankles, crossing them as the rope went round, then her legs above and below her knees.  Making her lie on her side, she pulled her legs right back and secured them to her chest ropes, then stuffed her mouth with a scarf and pulled a second one into her mouth - she had got them both from the cupboard.  She then used duct tape and wound it tightly round her head, making sure she kept Mum’s hair out of the way as much as possible - one little concession.

 

“’pplsdmsmfdsnnfnddf,’ she mumbled as we were picked up and carried into Connie’s bedroom.  I watched as they untied Connie and them made her lie on the bed.  It was an old one with a big metal headstand and footrest, so they used that, tying her arms and legs so that she lay spread-eagled with her head on a pillow.  I could see the way the ropes were digging into her skin as they gagged her the same way as Mum - then it was my turn.

 

“I had never been tied so tightly before - my ankles were literally against my bottom, with rope both holding my legs together as well as round my thighs and calves, and my arms almost cocooned into my side with rope.  I was also stuff and tape gagged, as they left the three of us there.  Even with my hands free, there was no way I was going to get free - and no way we could help each other, never mind try to get to mum for help.

 

“This was the Saturday afternoon, and John and Dad were not going to be back for another 24 hours.  Cassie, how would you feel is you realised you were tied so tightly it was impossible to move, and nobody was coming for a whole day?”

 

Aunt Cassie looked at me as she finished, and I thought about what she said.  “I would be really scared,” I eventually said.

 

“Me too,” Suzie said to offer some moral support, as Alicia and Jenny both let out a low whistle.  “Overnight was bad enough,” Jenny eventually said, “but for a whole day?”

 

Aunt Cassie nodded.  “Fortunately, the Major General’s wife wondered why we had not arrived, so she sent someone to see what was wrong.  Turned out the two ‘burglars’ were actually spies.”

 

“SPIES!”  Alicia shouted out, and then looked very sheepish.  “Miss Craig, haven’t you for some sort of homing beacon or a mobile phone you can use.”

 

“If only it worked that way in real life,” Aunt Cassie said with a sad smile.  “Like I said, Alicia, I think they know we’re here.  What’s really bothering me is the fact that this group will know that they know - it’s almost as if they want them to try to rescue us.  And that is what worries me most of all.”

 

She looked directly at me before saying “Cassie, I know you love been able to show what you can do when you’re mean to be unable to move and speak, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Sometimes, however, you need to remember there are others around, and sometimes, like now, we need to stay together and work together to get through this.  So please, trust me and believe me when I say this is one of those times.

 

“Besides,” she said as she winked at me, “we may be able to cause them a lot more trouble together rather than separately, all right?”

 

I looked round at the others, and saw they were smiling and nodding as well.  “All right then,” I eventually said, “What are we going to do?”

 

“Try to confuse them as much as possible until help can get here - now...”

 

As she said this, the door opened and we saw the masked man, Mr Bennett and Miss Curtis walk in.  “See, I told you I heard them talking,” the masked man said as he looked at us.  “I thought they would have untied themselves by now.”

 

“I think you worry too much,” Mr Bennett said as he looked behind me, “but I think we need to make these three more secure for certain - and we need to gag them properly, I’ll grant you that much, before he gets here.”

 

“Who gets here,” Aunt Cassie said as he untied the scarf from round her wrists and started to wrap rope round them.

 

“The Grand Master of course,” Miss Curtis said with an evil smile, “but the rest of the party needs to arrive before then.  Oh, don’t worry - they are on their way, and I am sure they will all be very glad to see you.”

 

I looked at Aunt Cassie as she seemed to go very pale for a moment, and then I felt something that reminded me of a question I meant to ask.

 

“When do we eat?  I’m getting hungry?”

 

The masked man looked at the other two, a smile playing on his lips as he said “You know, they are going to be here for a while - I suppose they should get some sort of food.”

 

Miss Curtis looked at him as I felt her pull the scarf off my wrists, then cross and tie them together.  “Don’t worry about it - I send a request out and...”  We all stopped as we heard the front doorbell ring, and voices downstairs.  “That will be it arriving now.”  I made a little smile as I felt the rope been pulled tighter between my arms, before she moved along and started to re-tie Suzie.

 

There was the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and as the door opened we all looked at the thin, grey haired woman who walked in, carrying two large bags as she looked at us.

 

“My apologies for the late arrival, girls,” Lady Holderness said as she walked in and put the bags on the floor, before removing her greatcoat and letting it drop to the side, “I insisted that I be allowed to join you and bring you some food before any ransom demands would be met.  I see you have not learned your lesson either, young man,” she continued as she looked at the masked man.

 

“Grandma, what do you think you’re doing,” Alicia said as she stared at her grandmother, and I had to admit I had a similar thought - right after the idea that she was so brave she just walked into a den of men and women holding us captive.  She was dressed no differently from normal - a mustard coloured round necked top and cardigan, a knee length tartan skirt, tights and flat shoes.

 

“Looking after my granddaughters, of course,” she said as Miss Curtis stood up and walked in front of her.  “Although I have to say I am not entirely satisfied with the standard of educators they are employing at your school, Alicia - you can be sure I will be writing to the Board of Governors about it.”

 

“But you’re the Chair of the Board of Governors,” Alicia said with a laugh as she watched Miss Curtis pat down Lady Holderness, then search her coat, removing the mobile phone from the pocket as she did so.  “This goes with the others,” she said as she tossed it to Mr Burnett, “and you do nothing stupid.”

 

“Young lady, manners are free and so useful,” Lady Holderness said directly to her, which made Suzie and me giggle.  “Now, if you do not mind, I would like them to eat.  I suppose releasing their hands is out of the question?”  She saw the three of them nod, then said quietly “I thought as much.  Would you four object if I ensured Suzanne and young Cassandra here are fed first?”  The others nodded as she opened a pack of tuna sandwiches and held one in front of each of our mouths, smiling as she watched us bite into them.

 

“They haven’t hurt you, have they,” she said as she looked at both of us.  We shook our heads, and after I swallowed a piece of bread I whispered “I don’t think they want to tie us up very tightly either.”  Aunt Cassie heard me and shot a look at Lady Holderness, but she just nodded a little and said “that is a good thing, Cassandra - it means we can have a little bit more fun later.”

 

“Will you be staying with us, Grandma,” Suzie said quietly as she took a sip from the carton of juice her grandmother had put in front of her mouth.  “I strongly suspect they want me to do just that, Suzanne,” she said quietly as she glanced to the side, “and if I am been honest, I want to be here to make sure you are not hurt in any way.  I’ve spoken to your parents, as well as Alicia’s and they send you all their love.  They also said to tell you to treat this like the games at home - do you understand Suzanne, Cassandra?”

 

We both nodded as she stood up and walked over to Alicia and Jenny.  “How are you coping Alicia,” she said as she opened a pot of salad and fed her a forkful.  “I imagine you are feeling a bit scared right now.”

“A little bit,” Alicia said after she had swallowed the food, “but not as much as I thought I was going to be.  And you’re here now as well, so I know everything is going to be all right.”

 

That made the masked man laugh, which made me laugh in turn.  Lady Holderness simply turned and looked at him, which made him stop.

 

“What’s up, scared of a little old lady,” Mr Burnett said, which only made the other man nod his head slowly.  “She needs to be respected,” he said slowly, “she’s tougher than she looks.”

 

“So you did learn something from out last encounter after all,” Lady Holderness said with a smile as she fed Jenny.  “I am glad to see that some things did penetrate.  Now, Jennifer, Do you need a drink?”

 

Jenny shook her head as Lady Holderness started to feed Mum.  While she did this, Miss Curtis removed the scarves from around our legs, before crossing and tightly binding our ankles together, and then to my delight pulling our legs together below our knees with lengths of cord.  “Does this m...” I started to say, before a warning glance from Aunt Cassie made me stay quiet again.

 

“Bind their legs tightly as well,” Miss Curtis said as she looked over her shoulder, and the masked man got to work on Alicia, Jenny and Mum.  “When will the ransom be delivered,” she then said to Lady Holderness.

 

“You need to learn patience as well as manners, young lady,” Lady Holderness said as she stood up.  “If you will allow me to make a phone call?”  She looked at Miss Curtis as the fake teacher gave her a phone, on which she dialled a number. 

 

“Desmond?  They are safe and well, but I will be staying with them.  Tell them to proceed.”  She switched the phone off and handed it back to Miss Curtis.  “Satisfied?” 

 

“Very,” she said with a smile as she turned Lady Holderness round and pulled her arms behind her back.  “I trust it will not inconvenience you too much, Your Ladyship?”

 

“I would expect no less,” I heard her say as she had her wrists bound in the same way as ours.  “After all, my place is with my family at times like these.”

 

“Very noble of you,” she said with a sneer as she helped Suzie’s granny to sit down on the floor, before crossing and lashing her ankles together as well.   As she wound the rope around her legs, Suzie began to slide herself across the floor towards Lady Holderness.

 

“Hey,” Mr Curtis said as he stepped forward, “Stay where you are.”  Before he took another step, however, Lady Holderness said “Young man, if either or both of my granddaughters wish to sit beside me, then I welcome it, and you should not try to stop it.  If you have even a modicum of decency within you, you would understand and accept that.  After all, we are going nowhere, and you are the ones who to all appearances are in charge here.”

 

“Exactly,” Miss Curtis said, which only seemed to make the masked man laugh even more.  “You really, truly believe you are in charge with these two little devils sitting here,” he said as he looked at us.  “I keep telling you, they are real trouble, we need to secure them tightly and properly.”

 

“If you can’t shut up,” Miss Curtis said as she turned and looked him, “then get out of here and make yourself useful - make the coffee or something.  You know what he is like when he arrives.”  The masked man cast a look at me, before turning and walking out of the room.  As Miss Curtis and Mr Bennett stood up, both Alicia and Suzie wriggled over and sat next to their grandmother, while Jenny and I made our way to the side of Mum and snuggled into her.

 

“Time to keep you all quiet,” Miss Curtis said as she held up a bag containing six small sponge balls.  One by one, she popped one into our mouths, and then tore off a length of tape.  I knew what tape it was the moment I saw it - the squelching ripping sound it made as it came off the roll would have given the game away anyway - but instead of wrapping it round our heads as she should have she just stuck a long, wide strip over each of our mouths, finishing off with Lady Holderness.

 

“Now don’t move,” she said as she closed and locked the door on us.  I glanced over at Aunt Cassie, who shook her head very slightly to say I should not try to do anything.  So instead, I settled with putting my head against Mum’s chest, listening to the sound of her heartbeat as she put her head against each of ours in turn.

 

ugrlssllrrttt,” she mumbled as we both looked up at her.

 

Ysfnksmmm,” Jenny said as she closed her eyes.  It was obvious that the events of the day had started to wear her down as well, and I have to admit that I was starting to feel a little bit sleepy myself.  In fact, the way I was feeling, I began to wonder if closing my eyes for just a few minutes would not be such a bad thing...

 

 

 

The light came on suddenly, and as I started blinking I saw someone been pushed into the room, her mouth covered with the same white tape we were all wearing.  She was dressed in a sleeveless blue denim dress, with knee length black leather boots, and she looked at us all with deeply worried eyes.

 

“We told you we left specific instructions as to who was to deliver the ransom,” I heard Miss Curtis say, “and here’s the person who delivered it.  She came alone, as we stated, and we brought her here alone.  Now we just need to wait for...  there was the sound of the front door been opened, as our captor said “Ah - I will be back shortly,” before closing and locking the door on us.

 

Hllfryn, - hfngfn?”

 

Cnneeee ustpdlssss,” Aunt Cassie said as my other aunt walked over and sat down next to her, putting her head on the shoulder of her sister.

 

Ubrttmnnneee,” Lady Holderness said as Alicia and Suzie opened their eyes and started to look round.  Aunt Connie nodded as she tried twisting her arms round.  Thrrrgdddd,” she eventually mumbled as she looked round the room.

 

Whrsmmmm?”

 

wffthrrfhtr,” Aunt Connie said as she looked over at Jenny, Mum and me.  Hsssshll,” she said as she nodded at us, and Mum nodded back.

 

Swhtsshhpng,” Lady Holderness said as she looked over at Aunt Connie.  She simply raised her eyebrow and nodded as the door opened and Miss Curtis walked in, with a man I had never seen before with her.

 

He was tall, well dressed and had greying brown hair, with a matching beard that ran down his chin and across the top of his mouth.  He looked down at us, before walking over and pulling the tape away from the mouths of Aunt Connie and Aunt Cassie as we looked on.

 

“How nice to see you again, Miss Craig,” he said in a voice with a soft accent I could not quite place.  “I do not think I have had the pleasure since that night you graced Amanda and me with your presence in Islamabad.”

 

“Graced?  A funny way of putting it,” Aunt Cassie said with a face that gave away nothing.  “As I recall it, you had me brought to you at gunpoint and accused me of being a traitor.”

 

“And do you deny you were?  After all, you did betray our secrets, and for what?  To spend the rest of your days working in a low grade educational establishment?”

 

“Actually, I thought it was to bring you down to your knees - and to bring closure to something that has been my goal for over twenty years.”

 

“Oh yes, I had forgotten my predecessor had that little run-in with your father - such an admirable man.  I was most distressed to hear of his passing, but cancer does seem to be the great leveller.  And who else do we have here, but your redoubtable sister.  My compliments on your detective work, my dear - you managed to virtually close off all my lines of revenue here and elsewhere.”

 

“Not all of them, though,” Aunt Connie said with a grim smile.  “I see we failed to uncover some of your contacts.”

 

“You mean Amanda,” he said as I watched him kiss Miss Curtis.  “Do not underestimate yourself, my dear - the very fact I sent my number two to supervise your capture should tell you in what esteem I hold your abilities.  It will be such a shame to read of your end.”

 

For some reason, Mum put her head on each of ours again.  I realised who this man was - someone very important, but who exactly was he, and why was he talking to my aunts like that?

 

“And,” he said as he knelt in front of me, Jenny and Mum, “These must be the relatives that are accused of causing so much trouble last time.”  He pulled me forward, making me giggle as he touched my side, and looked at the ropes around my wrists.  “From what I can see, you have been behaving yourself, but we’ll have to make sure you cannot cause any more trouble.”

 

“They’re kids,” Aunt Cassie called out, “Leave them out of this.  You can hold them hostage, but they don’t deserve your anger.”

 

“Oh no, Captain Craig,” the man said as he turned and looked at Aunt Cassie, “They need to be here - it’s all part of the grand scheme.”

 

“Flaming stupid scheme, if you ask me,” Aunt Connie said, and I was surprised to hear her almost swear.  “Surely you know every cop in the area is going to descend on us sooner or later.”

 

“My dear Mrs Brown, they are an essential part of the plan - a grand gesture demands a large presence, and after tonight nobody is going to forget the name of the Pearl of Great Price ever again.”  As he stood there, he brushed something off his sleeve, and then said “Bind their arms more securely, and add to their gags - I want to be sure they cannot raise the alarm when the time comes.”

 

That was music to my ears - I felt really loose sitting there, and so wanted to be properly tied - and silenced.  I smiled under the tape as Miss Curtis made all three of us sit forward, and started to use some rope around my waist to fix my wrists against my back.

 

I sighed as I felt the rope pulling my arms into place, and then as she wrapped a coil round my arms and tummy, pulling them in place as she passed it around my shoulders as well.  Pulling it tightly, she used the ends to further fix my wrists in place before moving over and doing the same to Mum.  Mr Bennett was doing the same thing to Suzie, Alicia and Lady Holderness.

 

“For God’s sake,” Aunt Cassie said as Miss Curtis was binding Jenny, “You have a beef with me - fine, I know the risks.  But they are just kids - you can’t do this to them.”

 

“I think you need to be quiet now,” Miss Curtis said as she stuffed the cloth back into Aunt Connie and Aunt Cassie’s mouths, and taped them back over, before starting to bind their arms to their sides, wrapping it above and below their chests as they sat there.  Once that was done, she made them both lie on their stomachs and pulled their legs up, fixing them to their chest loops with more rope.

 

As for the rest of us, Mr Bennett brought out six rolls of what looked like green fabric, which made a funny noise as he tore the end free.  Starting with me, he wound the cloth tightly round my head, sealing my mouth even more so that by the time he had made six passes I could barely mumble.  Tearing the end free, he smoothed it down at the back of my neck, where it stuck as if it was the special tape.

 

Pllsdndnhrmmtmmmmmmm,” I heard Mum say as the material was wrapped round her mouth as well.  One by one we all had this cloth wrapped round us, including Aunts Cassie and Connie, until we were all silenced.  The last thing they did was to move us all round the room, so that we were sat in a big circle, leaning against the walls and bed as we looked at my aunts in the middle of the room.

 

“Sleep tight,” Miss Curtis said with a smile that seemed nice, but also made my skin crawl as she turned the light off and closed the door.  For some reason, she did not lock it this time, which started to give me an idea.

 

The problem was, I had promised Mum and the others I would not do anything unless they told me to, so I settled for starting to shuffle my way back over towards Mum.  I could see Jenny had the same idea, as she was also shuffling in that direction.

 

As for Suzie, she had already made her way over to her grandmother, and was lying with her head on her lap, her eyes closing.  Alicia was twisting her arms round, trying to see if there was any give, but as she looked at Lady Holderness she stopped and slowly nodded.

 

I was surprised at this - of all of us, I knew Alicia had the most difficulty relaxing when playing these games, so I looked again at Lady Holderness.  She just nodded her head and said “wttmmm.”  I wondered what she was talking about, but when Aunt Cassie looked at me and nodded as well I began to wonder if they knew something, once again, which I didn’t.

 

Out of the corner of my eye, in the darkest part of the room, for just a moment I thought I saw something move, and I looked back wide eyed at Lady Holderness.  She just nodded and put her head on Alicia.

 

I could hear mumbling noises from downstairs, and from time to time the door would open and someone would look in, just to see if we had done anything I imagine.  Well, I hadn’t, and I wasn’t going to - not unless I was told I could.

 

After a while, everything seemed to go quiet downstairs, but still we sat there, Suzie asleep on her grandmother’s lap as Alicia sat with her head on Lady Holderness’ shoulder.  It was getting to the point when I was starting to nod off myself when I felt a nudge in my ribs, and I saw that Jenny had come next to me, looking over her shoulder and nodding.

 

I looked at Aunt Cassie, who was looking at Lady Holderness.  As they both gave an imperceptible nod, Aunt Cassie turned and said “ntttttrrrrrr.”

 

I turned so that my back was to Jenny, and started to probe with my fingers for the knots that were holding the ropes around her wrists tightly.  With nothing covering our hands or fixing our fingers together, and with my eyes now adjusted to the gloomy light, I was able to fairly quickly find the knot and start to pick it apart with my fingers.

 

Kkkgngnfndngdndfn,” Aunt Connie called out as I slowly unravelled the ropes and Jenny slowly pulled her hands free from her rope belt.  Wriggling her arms round to her side, she slid over to Aunt Cassie and started to slowly release her legs from the hogtie.

 

As she slowly stretched her legs out, Aunt Cassie looked up at the window and motioned to Jenny.  She nodded and started to push herself up to her feet, as Aunt Connie rolled over so that she was back to back with Mum.

 

Csssseesttsspppt,” Aunt Cassie mumbled as she looked at me, concentrating on what she was doing behind her back.  Finally, she was giving me permission to do what I had wanted to do all night, as I started to slide over to the door.

 

Jenny was hopping over to the window, and Aunt Cassie doing something to Aunt Connie, so neither of them really noticed as I slowly, slowly slid over towards the door, and then started to push myself up by putting my back against the wall and using my legs.  I slid up the wall and smiled to myself as my hands found the door handle and I slowly started to turn it.

 

A tiny slither of light came into the room, but it was enough for Lady Holderness to notice.  “SDDNDMDDMMMDDDDNNNNN,” she called out in a muffled tone, which made Aunt Cassie look towards me as I slipped into the hallway.

 

“CXCSSSENNNNNNN,” I heard her say, but it was too late, as I slipped into the hallway and closed the door to behind me.  Sitting on the floor, I started to use my legs and bottom to slide along, trying to listen in case anybody tried to stop me.

 

The light I had seen was coming from downstairs, so I sat on the top stair and started to slowly slide myself down.  As I did so, I could hear the bearded man and Mr Bennett talking.

 

“You don’t really believe those kids did what he says they did,” Mr Bennett said as I paused halfway down the stairs.

 

“I do not know - When their grandfather first crossed swords with our organisation, and I sent two agents to retrieve the information, the two daughters proved very resourceful.”

 

“The two - you mean Captain Craig and her sister?”

 

“I do - according to the reports, they had to be very tightly secured to keep them out of the way.  I can only hope this new generation have learnt their lesson.”

 

“So what’s going to happen?”

 

“For Captain Craig and her sister, I still want them to come with us and be taught the error of their ways.  As for the others - it was such a pity the gas fittings had not been properly checked when she bought the house.”

 

“What about the other kids and their grandmother?”

 

“Sadly, they were caught in the incident - a great loss to society no doubt.  Still, not as great a loss as the brave policemen who were caught in the fireball.”

 

Now, as I heard this, I started to feel a little bit afraid, and felt I had to go and warn the others.  As I looked up the stairs, trying to gauge how I was going to do this, I did not notice until it was too late that Miss Curtis was standing at the foot of the stairs, looking at me.

 

“I don’t believe it,” I heard her say before I whipped my head round.  “He said you were little devils, but I did not think you would - time for you to come back up, little girl.”

 

Picking me up and throwing me over her shoulder with one swift movement, she carried me back up the stairs, saying something in a language I could not understand.  Throwing the door to the room open, she turned the light on to see Jenny sitting on the floor next to Mum, Alicia and Suzie next to their grandmother, and Aunt Connie sitting on the floor.

 

There was no sign of Aunt Cassie, and the bedroom window was open.

 

Goddamit,” Miss Curtis said as she closed the door and threw me down onto the bed, making me call out as I hit my head on the headboard as she did so, and ran to the open window.   Reaching behind her back, she pulled out a knife and knelt next to Jenny, putting the flat of the blade against her neck as she looked at Aunt Connie with her back to the window.

 

“NNNNNNNNNN,” Mum screamed out as Miss Curtis looked at Aunt Connie.  “You have exactly five seconds,” she whispered quietly, “to tell me where Captain Craig has gone, or I make sure your little niece here is first.

 

“Five...

 

“Four...”

 

“MMSMDREEEEPLSDNNNTTTT,” I screamed out - and that was when the lights went out.

 

“Who’s there,” Miss Curtis said, and then I heard her gasp.  In the darkness I saw a male shape appear, standing in front of her and Jenny, not saying a word but looking at her.  At the same time, I thought I heard something come in at the window, but I could not be sure what was real and what was not.

 

What I could see was Suzie, Alicia and Lady Holderness looking at the figure, wide eyed as if they knew who it was.  Even Mum was staring, as if she was seeing something for the very first time.

 

“Who’s there, I said!  Speak up or I swear I will...”

 

“Actually Amanda, I thought you knew the first rule of teaching - never ever swear in front of the class.  Do that, and they have won.”

 

The voice had a slight accent, which I could not place, but as the light went on I could see that Aunt Cassie was back in the room - and she was not alone.  The new arrival was a tall, thin woman, with her hair swept back in a ponytail to reveal a high forehead.  She was dressed in a black bodysuit, with knee length boots, and was holding a gun against Miss Curtis’ head.

 

“Very, very slowly, Amanda,” she said, “and very quietly put the knife on the floor, and then stand up with your hands on your head.  We need to have a little chat, you and I.  Cassie, start untying them.”

 

I had been crying at the pain, but stopped when I saw and realised what was happening.  Aunt Cassie knelt next to Jenny, holding her head in her hands as she looked into her eyes.

 

“Are you all right,” she said, and as Jenny nodded she released her arms from her side.  “I need you to be a very brave girl a little while longer,” Aunt Cassie said as Miss Curtis slowly stood up and put her hands on her head, turning to look at the new arrival.  “Now, free your legs, take that cloth out of your mouth and take care of your sister.  Then you can free your friends.  I’ll take care of Aunt Connie, all right?”

 

Mmdmm,” Jenny said as she nodded and knelt down to untie her ankles.  “That,” Aunt Connie finally said as Aunt Cassie walked behind her, “was a blo..  Really close thing, sis.  Nicely played on standing in front of her in the dark.”

 

“I didn’t,” Aunt Cassie said, which made Aunt Connie raise her eyebrows.  As she did so, Jenny unwrapped her mouth and walked over to me.  I could see the redness in her eyes, as she looked at my forehead.

 

“You’re gonna have one hell of a bump,” she said quietly as she reached round and started to unwrap my mouth.  “Honestly, Cassie, if you had just stayed with us...”

 

“There will be time for that conversation later,” Aunt Cassie said as she helped Aunt Connie to stand up and Jenny dropped the roll of material that had been around my mouth on the bed.  As Jenny reached round and started to untie my hands and arms, I watched as the stranger pushed Miss Curtis over to the side of the room and made her turn round.

 

“Well, Jo, I see you are as good as Captain Craig here,” she said as the smile returned to her face.

 

“Better - I came top of the class at Sandhurst,” she said as she smiled back.  “Jenny, Alicia, I am truly sorry I was unable to stop this happening to you.  Had I been just two or three minutes earlier...”

 

“Then we would not have played the games,” I finally said as I used my free hands to remove the tape and stuffing from my mouth.  “I saw you in the church talking to my aunt.”

 

“So you did, Cassie - your sister knows me as Dr Frost, but if you want to be pedantic it’s Captain Frost.  Pleasure to meet you at last.  Now, free yourself and release little Suzie there, while your sister takes care of Alicia.  Mrs Brown, if you are free then you and Cassie take care of the other two.”

 

“No problem - but what happened?  After Jenny freed you and you ungagged me, you just dove out of that window.”

 

“Yeah,” Aunt Cassie said as she looked at me, then knelt behind Mum, “Well, the original plan kind of went up the Swanee when our little sprite here went walkabout.   Like I said, though, time for that later.  Cassie, did you hear them say anything when you went downstairs?”

 

“I heard the bearded man and Mr Bennett talking.  They said something about taking you and Aunt Connie for a trip, then gas and a fireball.”

 

I looked at Aunt Cassie and Aunt Connie as the ropes dropped from Mum and Lady Holderness, while we helped Suzie and Alicia to stand up.  Now, I love my two aunts, and I love the way they seem to smile no matter what, but this was the first time I had ever seen both of them angry - truly, totally angry.  I could also see the colour draining from Mum’s face as she looked at the four of us.

 

“Well then,” Jo said as she looked at Miss Curtis, “It’s a very fortunate thing that I have been watching this place for the last few hours.  Mrs Brown...”

 

“Connie - call me Connie.”

 

“Connie, I’m sorry they got you before you were able to arrive at Holderness Manor and get the package.  I have the feeling they decided to move their plans up.”

 

“Package,” Mum said as she tore the tape from her mouth and spat out the cloth.  “Connie, don’t tell me they wanted you to deliver the ransom?”

 

“I volunteered to,” Connie said as she hugged both of us.  “But it would appear that was all a ruse as well.   I presume we’re going to find out just what the hell has been going on later?”

 

“Later - but we need to move now.  Your Ladyship, a pleasure to make your acquaintance at last.”

 

“And yours, Captain Frost,” Lady Holderness said as she let go of Alicia and Suzie.  “It would appear the plans we put in place did not quite work as planned.”

 

“Grandma,” Alicia said quietly, “You knew?  You knew about Doctor Frost - but when I asked you in my room, you said there was nothing to worry about!”

 

“I know, and I’m sorry, but sometimes you have to not tell the whole truth.  We’ll explain it all to you later - but for now, we have the small matter of your English and PE teachers to deal with, as well as their lord and master.”  She walked over and looked directly into Miss Curtis’ eyes.  “For what you and your - master planned to do, I hope you rot in hell, but for now I think you need to be taught another lesson.  You have treated these children disgracefully, and they need to be given the opportunity to tell - no, show you how they feel about it.  Alicia, Jennifer - gather up and straighten all the ropes.  Suzanne, Cassandra  - find the tape rolls.  They should be somewhere in this room.”

 

We looked at each other, and then got to work as Lady Holderness talked to Mum.  “Jennifer, there is work to be done here, but I would understand if you wanted to get out now.”

 

“Oh no,” Mum said as she walked over and joined the grown-ups.  “I want to see this through to the end - and I want to be sure they never, ever hurt us again.”

 

“They won’t,” Jo said as she smiled at Miss Curtis.  “We’ve been busy while you have been here threatening children.  Your little organisation has shrunk a lot recently, hasn’t it - and we’ve known who every single remaining member is and where they were.”

 

“You can’t have,” Miss Curtis sneered, “we are many and numerous...”

 

“The only ones still at large are in this house,” Jo said quietly.  “While you have been hiding, we have been collecting all the remaining members and locking them up in some very, very secure places.  Your Ladyship, what exactly do you have in mind?”

 

“Miss Curtis here does not seem to believe that these girls are capable and skilled - they are going to show her.  Make her face the wall, and hold her hands behind her back.”

 

As Jo and Aunt Cassie turned Miss Curtis round and held her against the wall, Lady Holderness turned to the four of us.  “Girls, show Miss Curtis exactly what you are capable of, and leave no stone unturned.”

 

“Are you serious, Grandma,” Suzie said as she looked at Lady Holderness, her eyes wide.

 

“I am sure my dear - show her exactly what you are capable of.”

 

“I don’t need to be asked twice,” Jenny said as she took a length of rope.  “Hold her arms together behind her back.  Alicia, you take the elbows, and I’ll take the wrists.”  I watched, spellbound as they quickly bound her arms together, winding the rope very very tightly around her elbows and wrist as Miss Curtis said “Come on - I’ll be able to escape easily from this.”  Even as she said it, however, I could see her eyes as she watched over her shoulder.

 

“Suzie - rope belt.  Cassie - make sure her hands are nicely wrapped.”

 

We both nodded at Alicia’s commands, Suzie taking a long length of rope and winding it round Miss Curtis’ wrists and waist as we always did.  I picked up a roll of the grey tape and forced her to put her hands together, palm to palm, and taped her hands together.

 

“Take the tape up over her wrists,” Mum said as she watched, “I want her to have no chance of getting to the knots.”  I did the best I could, so that her hands looked as if they were in a single grey glove when I had finished.

 

“I’m impressed,” Jo said as she turned Miss Curtis round.  “What about you, Amanda?”  Miss Curtis said nothing as she was forced to sit down and the four of us collected several lengths of rope each.  “You seriously think four schoolgirls are going to stop me,” she sneered as she looked up at Jo and Aunt Cassie.

 

“Do you know, Cassie,” Jo said as she looked at my aunt and smiled, “I think they may just.”  As she said this, I crossed her ankles and began to tightly tie them together, a lot more tightly than I normally would.  This woman had hurt me, scared me, and I wanted her to see just how I had felt when she did that to me.

 

As I tied her ankles together, Suzie was binding her legs together below her knees, forcing her pants into her legs.  As for Alicia and Jenny, they were pulling her arms tightly into her side, with bands of rope around her tummy and shoulders, and I could see her eyes starting to widen a little.

 

As Suzie tied another length of rope around Miss Curtis’ thighs, Jo looked at the rope work we had carried out.  “Very very nice work, girls,” she said with a smile, but we are not done yet.  I think we need to make sure Amanda here is very, very quiet before we carry on, however - ideas.”

 

“She really does not know them, does she,” Cassie said to Mum and Lady Holderness.  “No, but I think she may soon find out,” Mum said with a smile as both Suzie and I found one of the pieces of cloth each.  “Open your mouth,” I said as I knelt next to her, adding “please” with as best a smile as I could manage.  Miss Curtis looked at both of us before opening her mouth and allowing her to push both the clothes in.

 

“My turn,” I heard Mum say as she picked up one of the thin scarves and rolled it into a tight band, tying a knot in the middle.  “This is for what you did to me and my daughters, you bitch,” she said, using a word I had never heard her use before as she pulled the knot tightly between Miss Curtis’ lips, making the corners of her mouth go back as she pulled the ends tightly and tied them together at the back of her neck.

 

“And this,” Aunt Connie said as she picked up a second scarf and pulled it into her mouth, “is for what your organisation has done to this family over the years.”  Miss Curtis could only make funny noises as the cloth forced her lips apart, but we had not finished yet.

 

Alicia picked up the roll of grey tape and held it in her hand.  “When we were robbed some months ago, and they used this to keep me, Mummy and my sister quiet, it petrified me,” she said as she looked into Miss Curtis’ eyes.  “I know it does not petrify you, but you should be very, very scared.”  Ripping the end free, she wound it around her already stuffed mouth and head, trapping her hair underneath it as she pulled and wrapped.

 

“Won’t that mean she has to get her hair cut,” I said as I watched.  “Right now, Cassie,” Alicia said as she looked at me, “I would do the cutting myself.”  Tearing the tape free, she looked at Jenny.  “Your turn, I think.”

 

Jenny said nothing, but picked up one of the rolls of green fabric and wound that round her head as well, before Jo forced Miss Curtis onto her stomach and pulled her legs back.  Alicia used another length of rope to pull her legs right back, and her ankles were forced against her bottom as she tied the rope off.

 

“Girls,” Aunt Cassie finally said, “Do you know what a frog tie is?”  We looked at her and shook our heads as she handed Jenny and Alicia another length of rope.  “Use this to tie her upper leg to her lower one on each side, then I’ll give the others a shorter length to cinch it.”

 

MMDmdmmmmm,” was all Miss Curtis could say as she felt the rope pull even more against her legs, and then Suzie and I wound a small length under her leg at each side behind her knee.  As we stood up and looked at her, Lady Holderness knelt and looked directly into Miss Curtis’ eyes.

 

“You’re fired,” she said very quietly before standing up.  “Captain Frost, where are the other forces?”

 

“Outside, awaiting the word Your Ladyship - but now that we know their plans...”

 

“I agree entirely,” she said as she walked over and opened the windows even wider.  “Girls, I want you to climb out one at a time, and follow Miss Craig.”

 

Before we could make a move, however, we all turned as we heard footsteps approaching.

 

“Get behind me,” Aunt Cassie said quietly to the four of us, “and stand by the window.  Do nothing, say nothing - I mean it, Cassie.  This is time for me and Jo to get to work.”

 

We made our way over to the open window, watching as Jo stood next to the bound and struggling Miss Curtis and Aunt Cassie stood behind the door.  We heard the footsteps getting closer and closer, until we saw the door handle turn and someone come in.

 

“Amanda, are you...”  Mr Bennett walked in, only to stop as he saw Miss Curtis struggling on the floor, her eyes wide as she tried to say “MDMSMMMGDFGGMMGMGFMFMDDMDGM!!!”

 

“What Amanda is trying to say,” Jo continued as she stepped out and pressed the gun in her hand against Mr Bennett’s head, “is that you should very slowly take the gun out from your pocket, hold it where I can see it.”

 

“Who...  How...  How did you do this?” Mr Bennett said as he slowly took out a gun and held it in his fingers, allowing Aunt Cassie to take it and throw it on the bed.  “Now, get on your knees and don’t move,” she hissed as she pushed him forward.  “You and she and your boss downstairs have a hell of a lot to answer for.”

 

“You do know that one word from me and...”

 

“Oh shut up,” Aunt Cassie said as she pressed him on his neck.  I watched as his eyes suddenly closed and he slumped to the floor.

 

“I thought they only did that in bad films,” Jenny said as she stared wide eyed at our aunt.

 

“Even bad films have a grain of truth about them,” Aunt Cassie smiled, but Jo but her finger to her lips as we heard more footsteps on the floor.

 

“Amanda, what is - Ah.

 

The bearded man walked in and looked round, a small smile playing on his lips as he did so.  “Well, it would very much appear that Mr Cotes was correct - you are indeed formidable opponents.  May I ask who amongst you made sure Amanda was so secure?”

 

All right, I know I had been told to keep quiet, but I could not stop myself as I said “We did - do you think we did a good job?”

 

He smiled as he looked down at her.  “Out of the mouths of babes and infants,” he said quietly before looking at Jo.  “I do not believe I have had the pleasure?”

 

“The pleasure is all mine,” Jo said as I saw a smile crossed her lips.  “We have wanted to meet you for some time, Grand Master - and it took a cowardly attack on children to make you come out of your hiding place.”

 

“Yes, well - I always did find this sort of thing most distasteful, but you do understand that lessons had to be taught.”

 

“Does that include blowing us up,” I heard Mum say, and suddenly I realised just what I had heard them talking about when I had slipped downstairs.  A cold chill ran through me as I looked at the others.

 

“Well, it was not something I wanted, but the activities of Captain Craig and her sister did cost us dear.  A lesson had to be taught, after all.  So, now that we are here, what are your demands?”

 

“Very simple, really,” Jo said as she pressed the metal end of her gun against Miss Curtis’ head, “Just how much are you willing to lose to win - your daughter, for example?”

 

Aunt Connie looked over at Jo as she said this.  “This - this creature is his daughter?  I thought she was his wife or partner.”

 

“Oh no, this is his daughter,” Jo said with a grim smile, “Must be something about keeping it in the family.  After all, they have met your wife before, haven’t they?”

 

“We have - when?”

 

“Many years ago now,” the Grand Master said as he looked at my aunts.  “I remember very fondly her tales of how she had to secure both of you most stringently after you hopped down into the front room while they were searching.”

 

Aunt Connie and Aunt Cassie exchanged a look, as I remembered the story they had told us earlier that evening.  “At any rate,” Jo said, “We may be able to make things easier for you.  Your organisation is through - anyone not in this house has already been arrested by associates of mine.  There is only you three and Mr Cotes left - which reminds me, tell him to disarm the device and come up here.”

 

“Why?  We are perfectly willing to die - are you?”

 

“Oh I am sure you are,” Jo said as she lifted the gun and pointed it at the bearded man.  “So, would you like to be first?  Girls, I want the four of you to climb out of the window and walk along the roof.  You will find a ladder there, and someone will be waiting at the bottom.  Jennifer, Lady Holderness, take them and make sure they get down safely.”

 

“No - I want to stay here,” I called out, but Mum took me by the arms and looked at me.  “Cassie, we need to go now,” she said quietly.

 

“It’s all right,” Aunt Cassie said as she smiled at me, “we’ll be along in a few minutes.  You get them to safety.”  Mum nodded as she lifted me out of the window and onto the flat roof outside, followed by Jenny and then myself.  I could see the top of a metal ladder, and as we walked quickly towards it and looked over the edge we saw two men in black clothing waiting at the bottom, waving to us.

 

Mum went first, and as I started to climb down I saw Alicia and Suzie coming along with their grandmother.  When I reached the bottom, the men made me run towards a car in the distance, and as I got closer I saw someone very special get out.

 

“DAD!” I shouted as I ran towards him, jumping into his arms as I got close enough.  “Thank God you’re all right, Poppet,” he said as she hugged me and kissed my head, and then gently lowered me down as Jenny ran over.  The door at the other side of the car opened and Lord Holderness got out, waiting as Alicia and Suzie ran up to him as well.

 

“What happened in there, Lucinda,” he said as Lady Holderness walked up.

 

“I’ll tell you later,” she said quietly, “but for now...”  She stopped as we heard three loud bangs, and all looked towards the house as what looked like an army rose up from the ground and ran towards it.

 

“Oh no,” I heard Dad say as he started to run towards the house, only for Lord Holderness to stop him.  “I’m sure everything is all right, John,” he said quietly, “but we need to get the girls looked at.  Come on - leave that to the professionals.”  I saw Dad nod before he picked me up in his arms.  “Come on,” he said quietly, “let’s get that bump looked at.  We’ll see Aunt Connie and Aunt Cassie later.”

 

 

 

 

The doctor switched off the bright light he had been shining in my eyes and looked at me again.  “She’s going to be fine,” he said eventually, “the bump is superficial.  Just get her some rest.”

 

We were sitting in an ambulance, Jenny next to me, and the doctor moved over to look at her, checking her throat as he felt it.  “No cuts or marks,” he eventually said, “but I strongly advise you to talk to somebody about what happened, and how you felt.  Don't bottle it up inside you, all right?”

 

“Good advice,” Alicia said from the other side of the ambulance, as she hugged Suzie, “Take it from somebody who did.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jenny said as she managed a small smile.  As Mum and Dad got into the ambulance, I looked up and said “Where’s Aunt Cassie and Aunt Connie?”

 

“They’re fine,” Mum said quietly, “but Jo Frost got hurt.  She’ll be all right, but...”  Through the open door I could see Jo walking towards a second ambulance, a blood stained bandage on her arm as Aunt Cassie helped her along.  I jumped out and ran towards them, saying “What happened?” as I grabbed Aunt Cassie.

 

“Well,” Jo said as she looked at me, “We had a little disagreement, but eventually the people that kidnapped you agreed to come along quietly.”  She looked behind me, and as I turned I saw Miss Curtis, Mr Bennett and the masked man been led away in handcuffs, while the bearded man was been carried on a stretcher.

 

“Will he live,” I heard Dad say as he walked up behind us.

 

“Not for the lack of trying,” Aunt Cassie said.  “We found the device and disarmed it, so the house is going to stay in one piece, but I can’t stay there for a few days.  Any chance I can use your spare room?”

 

I saw the masked man look over at me, shaking his head as he and the other two were made to get into a black van, the doors closing on them.  “Of course you can,” Dad said quietly, “for as long as you need to, sis.”

 

“Long time since you called me that,” Aunt Cassie said as Dad did the most surprising thing I ever saw him do - hug and kiss her.

 

“Thank you,” he said quietly as Lady Holderness walked over.

 

“I am going to take the girls home,” she said quietly, “but they need to know everything that has happened - and so do your daughters.  I will bring them over tomorrow morning and then we can tell them everything.”

 

“Oh, why can’t you tell us tonight?” I said as I started to yawn.

 

“Because,” Dad said as he picked me up and carried me back, “Very very soon now, you are going to fall asleep, and sleep is the thing you need most of all right now.  All explanations can wait until then.”

 

“But I want to knnnn,” I said as my eyes suddenly got very very heavy, and I decided that closing them for a few minutes would not be a bad idea....

 

 

 

 

 

As I opened my eyes again, I was surprised to find myself lying in my bed at home, wearing my pyjamas.  Turning my head, I looked at the clock and saw it was after eleven in the morning.

 

“You’ve woken up,” I heard Jenny say, and as I looked over I saw her standing there in a pair of grey joggers and a cap sleeved top.  “Mum and Dad want you to get up and dressed - we’ve got some visitors coming in a little while.”

 

I slowly got out of bed, and had a quick wash, before pulling on some underwear, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and making my way downstairs.  Mum and Dad were sitting at the kitchen table, and Aunt Connie was talking to them.

 

“... well, I told Sir Desmond I had to be the one to take the initial response - there was no way I could let anyone else do it.  One, I didn’t know Lady Holderness had gone in, and two, they grabbed me as soon as I got out of the car - I never even got the chance to go into the warehouse with the bag.”

 

She looked over at me, and said “Morning, sleepy head - how are you feeling?”

 

“I’m not sure,” I said as I took the glass of orange juice Mum was holding for me, “I still don’t quite understand what happened yesterday, and it still seems like a dream.”

 

“Well, when the others get here, we’ll explain everything,” Dad said as the back door opened.  I looked up as Granny came in with Aunt Cassie and Jo Frost, whose arm was in a sling.

 

“There you are,” Granny said as she came over and hugged me.  “Where’s Jenny?”

 

“In the front room,” Dad said, and as Granny walked out Aunt Cassie and Jo sat at the table.  “You never said what happened to your arm,” I asked as I looked at her.

 

“Oh this?  I hurt it helping a friend,” Jo said as she looked at Aunt Cassie.  “You’ll find out soon enough.”

 

The front doorbell rang, and Mum went to see who it was.  I recognised Suzie’s voice, and a minute later she came in, with Alicia and Lady Holderness.  Jenny followed her in as we stood there,

 

“Well, everyone’s here,” Aunt Cassie finally said.  “Cassie, finish your glass of juice - we need to have a serious chat with all of you - especially you girls.  In fact, it’s so serious we need to make sure you don’t interrupt us - so we need to get the four of you ready.”

 

Granny handed each of us a pair of white socks.  “Put these on,” she said quietly, “and then put your hands behind your back.  All you are going to hear now comes under the rules of the Craig Compact.”  I looked at Suzie as she pulled the socks over her hands, and said “Are you all right?”

 

“Yeah - good night’s sleep did wonders,” she said as she pulled the socks over the sleeves of her white top.  She had a blue t-shirt on over the top, and a pair of jeans on.  Alicia was wearing a pair of jeans as well, with a short sleeved blouse.  As we stood there, Granny tied our wrists together behind our back, and then as always we had ropes tied round our waists and tummies.

 

“Let’s go into the front room,” Granny said, and as we trooped in we saw that the floor had been cleared in front of the couch.  As Aunts Connie and Jo sat down, Mum, Dad, Granny and Aunt Cassie helped all four of us to lie on the floor and started to bind our legs together, while Lady Holderness pushed a folded pad of cloth into each of our mouths, and then covered them with the special white tape.

 

As we felt our legs been pulled back, I watched Lady Holderness pick up four black rolls of cloth.  “I bought these from our veterinary today,” she said as she knelt next to Alicia and pulled the end loose from one roll, “I think it will help if you have these round your mouths as well.”

 

“Can you tie us like we did Miss Curtis,” I said as I looked at Granny.  “Maybe some other day, Cassandra,” she said with a smile, “for now, let us leave it so that you cannot move unless we say so.”

 

As I felt the cloth been wrapped round my head, I looked to each side.  Suzie and Alicia seemed happy enough, but Jenny still seemed to be a little upset.  Dnntmmmmww,” I mumbled as I looked at her, and she glanced back at me, her eyes smiling a little.

 

“All right,” Aunt Cassie said as she sat down, alongside Lady Holderness on the couch as the others sat round the room.  “Jo, you’ll have to forgive this family tradition - it’s a way we share things that in any other circumstance we could not talk about.”

 

“It’s all right,” Jo said as she rubbed her arm, “All families have their secrets.  What I will say is what we have to say cannot go outside this room - not even to your parents, Alicia and Suzanne.  I’m sure Lady Holderness has already told them as much as she could, as she was as involved as we were.  In fact, she should really start this tale.”

 

We all looked at Lady Holderness as she slowly nodded.  “When you were held hostage here,” she started, “your grandfather and I realised that this was not going to be the end of the affair.  We know certain things, and certain people, which convinced us that we needed to have some sort of contingency plan in place should this organisation seek revenge.  Your aunts, Jennifer and Cassandra, had done a very effective job of crippling the group, but they both knew there would be others out there.

 

“We had two advantages.  Firstly, the details of what happened here were never released, so the only people who knew the truth were ourselves and the men who broke in - and of them, only the leader, the man Cotes, knew everything.  The young lad who was with him turned Queen’s Evidence, and that was enough to ensure the vast majority of the people still at large were identified.

 

“But that still left one problem - the Pearl had in the past sought revenge on the families of those who crossed them.  The assault on you, Miranda, and the girls many years ago was evidence of that.  So with the help of your Aunt Cassandra Desmond and I started to lay some plans down.  Cassandra?”

 

Aunt Cassie moved forward on the chair and looked at us.  “Believe it or not, Suzie, my decision to leave the Forces and take up teaching was pure coincidence.  The fact I found that I was going to be teaching you helped us to put a plan to try and protect all four of you in place.  I contacted, alongside Sir Desmond, my former commanders, and they arranged to place a number of other people at the other schools to keep an eye on you.  Jo here is a qualified chemist, so with Lady Holderness’ help we had her placed at your school, Jenny and Alicia.  What we did not know at the time was the Grand Master had already placed two of his most trusted associates there as well.

 

“As for Mister Cotes, he was placed under surveillance, so when two weeks ago he had an unexpected visitor we did wonder if this was the sign something was starting to happen.  Over the next few days, we got enough intelligence to suggest they were going to make a move, and it was likely it was going to be last Friday.  We decided to step up the security, and I said I would pick up you, Cassie, from school and bring Suzie with me.”

 

“I arranged the detention,” Jo said, “on some minor thing to make sure I could keep an eye on Jenny and Alicia.  While this was going on, Lord Holderness had used his contacts to ensure all other known members of the Pearl were been tracked - and then we got a surprise.”

 

Mssscrtstsss?”

 

“That’s right, Alicia - Miss Curtis.  As you now know, Cotes had been sprung from prison at the beginning of last week rather than the end - we kept that news suppressed as long as we could, but it eventually leaked Friday morning.  The other thing we were trying to do was find out who his visitor was - we had some CCTV shots, but they were not that good.  Cotes had disappeared, and we thought we were at a dead end.  Cassie had gone to collect the two younger girls, and I had my eye on the two of you.”  Jo looked at Alicia and Jenny as she said this.  “Then my intention was, at the end of the detention, to walk you two to your mother’s car and stay with you as long as possible.”

 

Whthppoppnd?”

 

“What happened?”  Jo sat back in the chair.  “The first of the things to go wrong.  As I was walking you down, I was stopped by the School secretary to say there was a phone call for me.  I went to the office, watching you as you walked to the car, and it was our - sorry my commanding officer.  He told me they had finally identified Cotes’ visitor - and she was the number two in the Pearl of Great Price, the Grand Master’s daughter.  Worse still, she was in the school as Miss Curtis.

 

“I let the phone drop to the floor, and ran out, but it was too late.  As I pushed the door open, I saw the man you knew as Mr Bennett climb into the car as you drove off, and I realised they had got you.  I went back to the office, told my CO what had happened, and immediately tried to call Cassie here.  But then, she had already been captured as well.”

 

We all turned our head to look at Lady Holderness again.  “When Jo could not contact your aunt, her next call was to me and Desmond.  We had feared this would happen, and between us we had devised a plan to try and rescue the situation.  Our next move was to call your parents, Alicia and Suzie, and tell them we had you at our house.  We had discussed it as a surprise for you both, so they accepted that was the case.  For obvious reasons, you both need to agree now to tell them that is where you have been this weekend.”

 

I looked at Alicia and Suzie as they both nodded in agreement.  Lady Holderness then continued.

 

“The contingency plan we had was simple - Jo knew your aunt had bought her house, and was fairly certain that whatever they were going to do would take place there.  So she headed to the house, viewing it from some distance off, and we contacted your parents.”  She looked at Jenny and me as she said this.  “Your father had already realised something was wrong, so he drove to Holderness Manor and waited there with us.”

 

“While this was going on,” Jo continued, “the known remaining members of the group were taken into custody.  From where I was placed, I could see that only a few were at the house with you, but I could recognise Amanda and Mr Bennett.  My hope was that they were going to be the only people there, as my colleagues arrived and started to move slowly, carefully into position.  In the meantime, Sir Desmond and Lady Holderness received the ransom demand.”

 

“It was a most audacious and clever plan they had,” Lady Holderness continued, “to demand a ransom for all of you.  We had anticipated that however - in fact, it was crucial to our plan, as was the fact that we expected - actually, knew for certain that you would somehow free yourselves.

 

“I told them that the only way we would pay any ransom was if I was allowed to join the girls, and bring them some food.  Only when I was satisfied would I call Desmond and agree for the ransom to be paid.  We believed that I would be too good a prize for them to turn down - and so it proved.”

 

Lady Holderness sat herself forward and looked at all four of us.  “It was actually ridiculously simple - I would join you, be bound and probably be gagged with you, and then we would wait until we managed to free ourselves.  One of you would then open a bedroom window, and Jo here would know that was the signal.  She would then approach with a way of getting into the room, and one by one lead us to safety without them knowing.”

 

Swhttnwwrrngggg,” I said as I looked up at them.

 

“Well, two things, but in the end they proved invaluable as well.  The first was the fact that, out of the blue, the Grand Master himself arrived.  Cassie had met him, but I had not - I did, however, recognise him as I watched with my binoculars, and I heard through my radio that all the other members of the group had been detained.  We now had the opportunity to contain the remaining embers on one place so my CO from our camp behind the woods ordered stealth troops to move into position.

 

“The second thing,” Aunt Cassie said as she sat forward, “was you Cassie.”

 

Mmmmmm?”

 

“Yes, you.  I told you that whatever happened, we had to stay together and help each other.  In fact, I told you the story of the time those two women came to our house to warn you that, if you went off on your own, something bad was likely to happen.  We suspected that whatever Cotes told them of you four, they would not believe it, so we were all tightly bound and gagged, but not in a way that meant we could not help each other to get free.

 

“So when you and Jenny managed to free each other, it looked as if our plan was going to work.  Then, to our horror, you went off on your own as Jenny managed to open the window.

 

“As you slipped out of the room, I motioned to Jenny to come and untie me.  She managed to do that, and I removed my own gag and then ungagged Connie.  With you out of the room, I intended to untie Jenny and get her onto the roof, but then we heard Amanda talking, and the footsteps.  I motioned to Jenny to sit back down, and jumped out of the window myself.”

 

“By this time,” Jo said, “I was on the roof, having out a ladder up and climbed up.  When I saw this adult jump out, I grabbed her and turned he rover, only to find myself looking at former Captain Cassie Craig.  Letting her go, I handed her a pistol and we squatted under the window, listening to Amanda as she threw you on the bed, Cassie, and then threatened Jenny.

 

Aunt Cassie knelt on the floor and looked at both of us.  “I am really, truly sorry that I could not stop the two of you been hurt as you were, but we had to wait for the right opportunity.  That only came when the lights suddenly went out, and Jo and I were able to slip in.  I made my way to the light switch, while Jo took position next to Amanda.  I put the lights back on, and you know what happened after that.”

 

“What I don’t understand,” Jo said quietly, “is what made the lights cut out at that point, or why Amanda said she saw a man standing in front of her?”  We all looked at Lady Holderness, who simply smiled and said “I very much doubt you would believe me if I told you, Jo.”

 

“Well, we’ll leave that one to the others.  Anyway, you were all freed, and then I watched the four of you get your own back on Amanda - or as you now know here, the Under Master of the Pearl of Great Price.  Once she was secured, we were going to get you all out of the window - and then Bennett walked in.  We soon silenced him, and then the Grand Master himself followed.

 

“You, Connie, were genuinely surprised to find she was his daughter.  His wife, the former Under Master, had died a few years ago, and she had taken her place - seems it ran in the family.  Anyway, I ordered you out of the house - and I won’t apologise for that.  After the six of you had gone, we had a Mexican standoff - Cassie and me against the Grand Master.”

 

“What happened,” Mum finally said.  She and Granny had been listening the whole time.  “We heard three bangs.”

 

“Cotes happened.  He walked into the room, looking for the others, and took us by surprise.  That was all the Grand Master needed to pull a gun from his jacket, point it at Cassie and fire a shot.”

 

“A bullet you took for me,” Aunt Cassie said quietly, “You dove in front of me and it hit your arm, which gave me time to fire a shot into his leg as his daughter watched.  He dropped the gun, and Cotes tried to go for it - the third shot was a warning one from me to him.  He looked at me and dropped to his knees, putting his hands behind his head.

 

“As I covered them, the special forces came in.  I warned them of the planned gas explosion, and as some went down the stairs Jo was tended to.  They took all four of them into custody, and - well, you saw the rest.  That’s why I can’t stay there just now - I need to get the wiring re-checked and some plastering and decorating done.”

 

Aunt Cassie spoke lightly, but I had began to realise that if I had stayed in the room, then none of the hurt or other things may have happened.  I looked over at Jenny, my eye stinging as I felt the tears starting to run.  Msmsmreeeeee,” I mumbled as I looked at her.

 

“Cassie, my wonderful brave darling Cassie,” Aunt Cassie said as she knelt next to me and hugged me, “Had you not left the room, we would never have realised just how bad their plans were.  Yes, some of you got hurt, and scared out of your wits,” she said as she looked at Jenny, “but in the end we finally put an end to that group, and twenty or more years of history were brought to a close.”

 

“So that’s it - we will never hear of the Pearl of Great Price again?”

 

“Never say never, Jennifer, “ Lady Holderness said quietly, “but no - noen of them are at large.  Sadly, the public will never know the full story - much of it must remain secret, as must the events of the last two days.  I am afraid to say, Alicia and Jennifer that you both came down with a terrible case of food poisoning, and will miss school this week, as have Cassandra and Suzanne.”

 

We looked at each other as she said this.  “Mr and Mrs Bridges are preparing rooms at Holderness Manor for you - you will stay there, rest, and if you want talk to me and Miranda about what has happened.  Your parents will join us there in the evenings, and help you to prepare for our return to school.”

 

I looked at Mum and Dad, who nodded as Lady Holderness finished.  “You all need to take some time to yourselves,” Dad said quietly, “and do whatever you need to do.  As for you, Jo,” he said as he stood up, “Thank you for looking after the children, and for Cassie as well.”

 

“I was doing my job,” Jo said as she stood up, “nothing more, nothing less.  I’m sorry, girls, but you will have a new form tutor and chemistry teacher when you get back.  I hope you enjoy him or her - and that we get to meet again someday.”

 

“I’ll show you out,” Aunt Cassie said as Suzie reached over and kicked me.  Wllpllsmsmgmgmssss,” she mumbled as she looked at me, and then at her grandmother.

 

I nodded in reply - we could play some games, but I had learned a lesson.  As I looked at Jenny, I promised myself I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her again - ever. 

 

“Right,” Granny said as she stood up as well, “You girls stay there for a while until Lucinda and I prepare Sunday Dinner.  At least you can get a good meal before you go off.”  The adults left the room, as we started to wriggle round on the floor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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