“Before you all head off to your classes today,” our form tutor said as we went to stand up, “I wish to discuss your work placements with you.”
School was breaking up for the Easter holiday, but for those of us in our year it wasn’t a holiday as such. We had to do two weeks work experience, and I had managed to get a placement at the same paper as Aunt Connie, who had just returned from her maternity leave.
One of the conditions of this, which I found a bit funny, was we were not meant to tell each other where we were going to be working. Partly I think it was meant to make sure we didn’t try and distract each other, but my own personal feeling was everyone was going to tell each other eventually.
Take us for example – Mary, Cathy, Alicia and I had already agreed we were going to meet up in town on the Monday to compare notes, so that was right out of the window.
“Now, remember this is an important part of your social development,” Miss Brown said as we looked at her. “Each of you will take one of these work diaries when you leave, and will ensure you fill it in each night. I look forward to seeing your completed books when you return in two weeks time. And one more thing, the most important thing of all.”
We all sat back and looked at her as she said “Have fun – right, get to your classes.”
“Have fun, she says? When did she have to do it anyway?”
Alicia looked at Mary over the table in the dining room. “She may not have had to – I was talking to Angela about it last night, and she said her year was the first that had to do this.”
“Where did she do her work placement?”
“She did a stint as a nursery assistant – which was a closed door to me, as the nursery had now shut up.”
“Tough luck,” Cathy said with a smile.
“I presume you’re going to spend the week at the florist’s?”
“You think wrong – Mum would not allow me to. Either of them, if truth be told. So I have… But that would be telling.”
“Speaking of Angela,” Mary said as she looked at Alicia, “Is she spending the holidays up at Warwick?”
“Nope – she’s going to visit her friends for a weekend, and then its revision all the way for her. Doubtless there will be the occasional night out, but I know what she’s like in the run-up to exams – nothing gets in her way, especially me.”
“So keep out of her way?”
“Precisely – the most I expect to get out of her over the next couple of months are a few grunts of encouragement and acknowledgement.”
The next day I had arranged to spend the day with Alicia at her grandparent’s place. Aunt Connie had already said one of the things she wanted me to do during my work placement was an interview with Lady Holderness, about her life and experiences in the area. I had had an initial chat with her, and knew that asking her about some of the work she and Lord Holderness had done in their younger days was strictly off limits, but I thought asking her about what we could talk about would be a good start.
As Dad dropped me off, however, we saw Mister Bridges taking a number of suitcases out of the car and into the manor house.
“Looks like they have someone staying,” he said as I got out of the car. “I’ll be back to pick you up at four, all right?”
“Got it,” I said as he drove off. I had literally put on what I could find this morning, which consisted of a grey long sleeved top under a blue short sleeved blouse, a knee length skirt and black shoes. It was cold, however, and I hadn’t brought a coat, so I went straight into the hall way.
“Hello, Miss Jenny,” Mrs Bridges said as I walked in, “Her Ladyship is in the library if you are looking for her.”
“Thanks, Mrs Bridges – can I go straight in?”
“I think so – I’ll bring you both a drink in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” I said as I knocked on the door, and heard Lady Holderness call out “come in.”
“Good morning, your ladyship,” I said as I walked in, “Thank you for seeing me today.”
“Please, Jenny,” she said as she looked up and took off her glasses, “you don’t have to be so formal. I’ll let you call me Lucinda, and we’ll forget to tell your grandmother I agreed to it, all right?”
“All right, Lucinda,” I said as I sat down, “but thank you for agreeing to work on this project with me.”
“It’s a pleasure Jenny. I think it’s a good thing you have decided to see if following in your aunt’s footsteps is a good career move for you – in fact, she will join us here later to review our discussions.”
“Aunt Connie is coming here?”
“Well, to discuss another matter with Desmond and I, but it makes sense if the three of us have a little chat as well, wouldn’t you agree?”
I nodded, more afraid to say no than anything, as Mrs Bridges brought in some coffee. “I think you will be allowed to have some as well,” Lady Holderness said as she poured two cups and handed me one. “So, what is the scope of this article you have been challenged to write?”
“well,” I said as I sipped my coffee, and then put my cup down, “I know that the time before Lord Holderness ascended to the title is out of bounds, but I wondered if it would be all right to talk about some of the things you have done since you became Lady Holderness – your charitable work, and so on. As an example, we could talk about your campaign to save the church hall when it was nearly destroyed by fire ten years ago.”
“Oh you have done your homework,” Lady Holderness said with a smile. “But yes, I think that would be a good approach. I have a number of stories I can share with you, which Connie I am sure will encourage you to research more fully. Are there any other areas you wish to include in your work?”
“Well, I want to avoid any personal issues involving other members of the family, so Sarah and Brian for example are out of scope for me. But I did wonder if it would be of interest to hear your views on the role the Holderness family have played in the local community, and how you could see that changing in the future?”
“I’m tempted to say that is a question for Alexander and Robert,” she said with a smile, “but we can consider that if we have time. I think you may have more than enough on your plate just talking about the work I have done.”
She took a sip from her coffee cup, and then said “Besides, to ask that question may potentially involve bringing your own family into the story, and the first rule of a reporter is never to be involved personally in the story – it can cloud the judgement.”
“Aunt Connie would say you have to be emotionally involved sometimes.”
“True – and Clare will disagree with her every time she says it.”
“Clare – Alicia’s great aunt?”
“That’s right – she was a photographer for a magazine you may have heard of – Time Magazine? She took pictures of war theatres in the Far East, and some of the things she depicted… At any rate, I think the truth is it depends on the story, and how much you need to protect those involved in them.”
I nodded at that – I guess it would be a little unfair to drag Bobby in, because by implication Cassie gets involved. If Cassie is mentioned, Patty starts teasing – and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that would be more trouble that it is worth.
“Very well then, let’s focus on your experiences, “I said with a smile. “When would you like to meet and talk?”
“We can discuss that with Connie when she gets here,” Lady Holderness said as she set her coffee down, and picked up an album that was on the seat next to her. “In the meantime, you may like to peruse this – a collection of photos for events I have attended over the last fifteen years. Look at them, see if any raise questions in your mind, and we will make a note to talk about them.”
I took the album as she crossed the room to sit next to me, and we spent the next couple of hours looking at the photos, while I took notes and she explained about one or two of them.
We both looked up as Mrs Bridges came in and said “Lunch is ready, Your Ladyship.”
“Thank you,” she said as we both stood up, and walked into the dining room. To my great surprise, a couple I knew very well were also sitting there. The man had a broad smile on his face as he stood up, dressed in a rugby shirt and jeans, but it was the woman I walked over and hugged first. She was wearing a light blue smock top with pink flowers printed on it, a pair of black leggings and trainers, the smock covering a quite sizable bump at her stomach.
“Hello Jenny,” Sarah said as she gave me a little kiss as well, “I hope you don’t mind if we join you for lunch.”
“Of course not,” I said as I sat down, “so it was you and Brian whose luggage I saw Mister Bridges carry in?”
“That’s right,” Brian said with a smile, “Lucinda and Desmond wanted us to be here for the birth, and although it’s still a few weeks away, we’re at the point that if we didn’t come now, our doctor would have banned us travelling.”
“I can see that,” I said as I smiled at Sarah. “Do the others know you are here yet?”
“Not yet,” Lady Holderness said, “We’ll break it to them as and when they come, but you may tell your parents and grandmother. Now, who would like some bread with their soup?”
“So how much did you enjoy Australia,” I asked as I accepted some bread.
“An interesting place, but I don’t think I could live there permanently – too hot for me,” Sarah said as she smiled at Brian.
“No problem – I have no intention of bringing our children up there anyway,” Brian said with a smile. “When we finally got back, we settled back down, did a few bits of business, and now we’re here for a few months.”
“The girls asked me to say hello,” Sarah said as she put her spoon back into the soup bowl. “In fact, they were very insistent on it.”
“So what are you going to be doing while you’re over here?”
“Resting, doing this and that for a few people,” Brian said with a smile. “Anne and Kayla will join us when the time comes, and then we see what we see.”
“Lucinda told us you’re going to be working with your Aunt Connie,” Sarah’s aid, “Looking forward to it?”
“I am and I’m not – it feels so scary!”
“Of course – but I’m sure you’ll do a great job,” Brian said with a smile as Mrs Bridges took the soup plates and brought out some salads. “Lucinda, would it be all right if Sarah and I took a walk down to the lake later?”
“Of course – will you need the boat?”
Brain nodded in reply – which meant they were going over to the island, and the mausoleum.
The rest of the meal passed with us talking, me bringing them up to date about recent events, including Valentine’s Day and Bobby taking Lisa out for a special afternoon – and his Shirt of Hurt trip. When Brian heard that, he laughed before saying “That reminds me – I wouldn’t mind taking a trip to Twickenham one day.”
“Talk to Desmond – he can help set that up,” Lady Holderness said as the door opened, and Mister Bridges showed Aunt Connie in.
“Hello Sarah, Brian,” she said as she hugged the other two, “You managed to make it over safely then?”
“We did indeed – and I hear congratulations are in order for you as well!”
“Thanks,” Aunt Connie said, “but I haven’t told work yet. I’m going to keep going up to the birth, to satisfy the legal people, and then I think it may be full time motherhood for me.”
“A loss to the journalistic profession, I’m sure,” Lady Holderness said, “but in the meantime, you get to supervise young Jenny for two weeks.”
“I do indeed,” she said as she looked at me, “Good meeting with Lady Holderness today?”
“Yeah,” I said with a smile, “we established the scope, and I have some ideas of events to research as well.”
“Excellent – now, I understand you wished to see me, Lady Holderness.”
“I do indeed,” she said as she stood up, “I was most impressed by what you discovered concerning the plaque at Wissenden. Come into the library – I have a proposal to put to you. Jennifer, come with us please – this is relevant to your work as well.”
Well, I was intrigued, so I followed them into the library and sat down next to Aunt Connie. The door opened, and Lord Holderness came in, sitting next to his wife.
“Desmond and I were talking last week, about what Jenny will be doing, and it made us realise that the history of our family, and of this place, may be of interest to others.”
“All of it?” Aunt Connie had a raised eyebrow, which infuriated me a little – it usually meant she knew more about what was going on than I.
“No, not all of it – but the general history, what the family has done and achieved, the way the town and house has developed since the first Lord Holderness – we think it is time the record was laid down, and we would like you to do it for us.”
“Me,” Aunt Connie said, “I’m no historian, your ladyship, and I’m a journalist.”
“Indeed – and we do not want a cold history. We want a timeline, a story, a progression - so a journalist is eminently more suited to the task. Will you at least consider it?”
“I will consider it,” Aunt Connie said, “and thank you for thinking of me.”
“If nothing else, it will keep you busy after you leave your current post,” she said with a smile. “Now, let us discuss timelines for your project, Jenny.”
“Very nice,” Mum said as I came into the kitchen on the Monday morning. I had put on a blue linen jacket and knee length skirt, with a short sleeved blouse underneath, as well as a pair of sensible shoes.
“Will it be all right for work,” I said as I looked at her.
“It will be fine – always good to make an impression on the first day, and you can adapt your dress code for the environment after that.”
“Is she ready,” Aunt Connie said from the hallway, and I drained the glass of milk that Mum had handed me.
“There you are,” she said as she came in. Aunt Connie was wearing a grey suit with a white camisole under the jacket. “Perfect,” she said as she looked at me, “I had thought we would be in the office today, but we need to go and see a few people about a news story.”
“Might be something, might be nothing – ever hear of The Green Mask?”
Mum looked at Aunt Connie, before she said “You’re kidding – that was over twenty years ago.”
“I know,” Aunt Connie said with a smile, “come on Jenny – time for you to see how I earn my wage packet.”
“See you later Mum,” I said as I waved to her, and we went out to Aunt Connie’s car, me sitting in the front of her as she drove off.
“So who or what is The Green Mask,” I said as we headed into town.
“How can I put this…. The Green Mask was to the late eighties and early nineties what Jay Edwards is today. He used to break into houses when the family were home, and used the children to force the parents to give up their valuables before he would secure and gag them all, and then disappear into the night.”
I looked at Aunt Connie as she said this. “You say this was twenty years ago – when you were my age?”
“That’s right – a few of my school friends were visited by this guy. Unlike Mister Edwards, it was one man. One of my friends told me what happened – he was quiet, well spoken and ruthless.”
“So why mention him now?”
“Because either he is back, or we have a copycat on our hands. Anyway, we’re going to see the family in question – I want you to listen and make notes as well as me. With your experience, you may see or hear something I miss.”
We eventually stopped outside a semi-detached house in Dewcot, a small village outside town, and as we got out a uniformed police officer was at the door.
“Morning Mrs Brown – new cub reporter,” he said as we walked up the drive.
“Kind of – this is my niece, on work experience. Can we talk to them?”
“Yeah – you’re cleared,” he said as he knocked on the door. As it opened, we walked in and along to the front room. A woman in her early thirties was sitting on the couch, wearing a grey t-shirt and pants. Two girls were sat beside her, one on each side. The oldest had a white t-shirt and shorts on, the younger a yellow sun dress, but all three looked scared.
“Mrs Whitmore, I’m Connie Brown from the Herald – this is my assistant Jennifer Craig. Do you think you’re up to telling me what happened?”
“I already talked to the police – we just want to forget it.”
“I know – but what happened is very similar to something that happened years before, and I want to put your experience against that. If you’re willing?”
She nodded as Aunt Connie switched on a tape recorder. “When were you aware that something was wrong?”
“It was about two this morning – my husband is away on business, and I was asleep in my bed when I heard what sounded like a cat mewling. Well, I turned over to try to ignore it, but it got louder – and then the light went on.”
“Someone turned it on?”
Mrs Whitmore nodded as she said “There was this man – tall, well built, with a green balaclava mask on, and he had Tracie and Poppy with him.”
The two girls nodded and hugged their mother, as she put her arms round them. “They had their arms behind their back, and it took me a little while to realise they had some sort of tape over their mouths – the mewling sound had been them trying to talk to me.”
“I see,” Aunt Connie said as she looked at me. I leaned forward and said “Which of you is Tracie?”
The younger girl raised her hand as I said “I know it was scary, but can you tell me what happened?”
“I woke up to see this funny man looking over me in my bed,” she said quietly. “He put his finger to his lips, and then stuck this funny tape over my mouth, stopping me saying anything. He then told me to roll over, and taped my hands together behind my back before he made me get up and come with him.”
“I see,” I said quietly, “did he sound as if he was local?”
“I don’t know – he spoke very quietly.”
“All right – so he made you get out of bed, Tracie, and then he took you to your sister’s room?”
Poppy nodded as she said “I woke up to see him with his hand on Tracie’s shoulder. He told me to get up and turn round, and then I felt this tape on my wrists and hands. Then her turned me round, and stuck another piece over my mouth. It felt funny – pulling at my skin, and I could not move my lips or speak.”
“How would you describe him?”
“Big, scary – and then there was that green mask over his head.”
“Thanks,” I said as I looked back at Connie. She smiled and said “So he brought the children into your bedroom, Mrs Whitmore. What happened then?”
“He told me to do exactly what he said, or it would be the girls that got hurt. So I did what he asked – I got out of bed, took a bag from him, and put all my jewellery, my credit cards and money into the bag. I then watched as he made the girls lie on the bed, and he taped their ankles and their legs.”
The two girls nodded in agreement, before Mrs Whitmore continued “He then taped my wrists together behind my back, and covered my mouth with this tape. I then lay between them, and watched as he taped my ankles and my legs together.”
“And then he left?”
“And then he left – we were too scared to move, until I managed to get my wrists free, cut the girls loose, and call the police.”
“All right – we won’t disturb you any more, Mrs Whitmore. Thanks for agreeing to talk to us.”
As we walked out, Aunt Connie whispered to me “nicely handled – what do you think?”
“I don’t know – what happened to stop the robberies before?”
“They caught the man,” Aunt Connie said. “So as a journalist, where do you think our next stop should be?”
“Police station – see if they can share anything at all with us?”
“Good call, cub reporter,” she said with a smile. “Come on – let’s drop in and see who we can get to talk to us.”
As we walked into Holderness Police Station, the desk sergeant looked up and smiled. “Connie Brown – back on the local beat?”
“For the moment, Sergeant Clark,” Aunt Connie said with a smile. “Local story with possible national interest. This is my niece, Jennifer…”
“Jenny? What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” I said as I saw Colin Hampton standing there. “Did you come in to see your father?”
“Not exactly,” Colin said as he handed the desk sergeant a pile of forms. “This is my work experience – filing clerk for two weeks. Me and someone else.”
“Time for chatter later,” Aunt Connie said quietly, “can we see Detective Superintendant Hampton?”
“I’ll call through and see if he’s free,” the sergeant said as he picked up the phone, Colin smiling at me as he walked off.
A few minutes later Barry Hampton came out, shaking Connie’s and my hand as he said “Come on through – we’ll talk in my office.”
As we walked through, Colin whispered “I’ll come round and see you tonight.”
“Not tonight – tomorrow,” I said, smiling as I followed Aunt Connie.
“Have a seat,” Mr Hampton said as we went into his office. Sitting at the other side of the desk, he said “I’m not sure there’s a lot more that I can tell you, Connie, apart from what we’ve already released in the police statement.”
“I know – we’ve already spoken to the family,” Aunt Connie said with a smile. “We’re here to give my young assistant here a bit of background to the history of the Green Mask.”
“Your assistant,” he said with a raised eyebrow. “Well, there’s not really a lot to say. The original cases, as I’m sure your aunt has already told you Jennie, the name was given to a robber from about 1987 to 1992, mainly because the victims all mentioned the green balaclava mask he wore. His modus operandi was to enter the house in the early hours of the morning, rouse the children, bind and gag them, and then use them as leverage to get the parents to hand over their valuables.”
“That’s what Aunt Connie said – then he left the families all tied and gagged, and made his escape. Was it always the middle of the night when he struck?”
“It was his preferred time, certainly,” Mr Hampton said as he sat back, “I seem to recall one or two occasions when he broke in during the day, usually when the mother had left the older son or daughter in charge, but mostly during the night.”
“And he always used tape?”
“That’s right – I guess because however effective or ineffective you know it, it is quick, and if you’re woken in the middle of the night by a masked man, fear means you don’t resist too much.”
“So what happened in 1992 to make the robberies stop?”
“They stopped – that’s all. We never caught the perpetrator, and it became a matter of history rather than police investigation. Why they should start up again now, I have no idea.”
“Thanks, Barry,” Aunt Connie said as she stood up and shook his hand. “Jenny, part of your work this afternoon is going to be going through the archives at the office for those past reports. Dave in the computer department will help you use the index search.”
“I’m just hoping this is a one-off,” Mr Hampton said as he escorted us out. “Last thing we need is another thief using kids to get the parents to co-operate. We already have Jay Edwards and the Game Player.”
“Another thing for our hard working police to think over,” Aunt Connie said as we went back to the car. “I’m hungry – let’s grab a sandwich and then I’ll take you to the office. There’s a good place about ten minutes from here.”
We drove down to an arcade of shops, and parked outside a nice looking café. Leaving the car, we walked in and sat down at a table.
“Good afternoon, what can I get… Oh boy, guess my secret’s out now.”
It was indeed Mary, in a black short sleeved dress with white cuffs and collar, and a white apron around her waist, hanging over her skirt.
“Yeah,” she said as she looked at me and Aunt Connie, “I got the catering business. I’ve already had all the jokes from Eddie, so spare me them.”
“Fair enough,” I said with a smile, “I’ll have a cheese and ham baguette, and a coke.”
“Croque Monsieur and mineral water,” Aunt Connie said with a smile, “and don’t worry – your secret is safe with me.”
“Hey could be worse – wait until you see Alicia,” Mary said with a smile as she scribbled on her pad. “I’ll bring your drinks over in a minute.”
I wish I could say the afternoon was as interesting as the morning, but it wasn’t. The archives were a vast array of bound volumes, but Dave was able to give me a list of reference numbers, so I took that and pulled the volumes out, leafing through and taking notes when I found the reports of the break-ins. I’d managed to find about a dozen before Aunt Connie found me.
“Knocking off time – want me to drop you anywhere?”
“Nah,” I said as I closed the leather bound volume, and looked at my notes, “I’m meeting the girls and going for a pizza with them. I’ve found a dozen reports – eleven night visits, one on a Sunday afternoon, but they all say the same thing.”
“Well, this is part of the job – sifting through the records. Come on – I’ll walk you out.”
Pizza Hut was fairly quiet when I arrived, but Alicia and Cathy were already there. Alicia was wearing a t-shirt and joggers, and Cindy had on a white blouse and knee length grey skirt.
“Hard day at the coal face,” Cathy said as I sat down.
“Different – I saw Colin at the police station, helping with filing and suck like. I thought we weren’t meant to work with our parents?”
“Different schools, different rules,” Alicia said as she stretched her arms out. “I don’t know about you two, but I am starving.”
“So am I,” Mary said as she joined us, “do you know what it’s like to be serving food all day? I just got hungrier and hungrier!”
“So where are you based,” I said as I looked at Cathy.
“You’re the reporter – see if you can find out,” Cathy said with a smile. “Ask Ali instead.”
“No – don’t,” Alicia said as she looked at me, “just don’t. Let’s order and eat.”
“Oh – secrecy,” Mary said, “but I already know, Alicia dear. What’s to stop me telling both of them right now?”
Alicia looked at Cathy and me, and then said “All right – but Cathy has to spill as well.”
“All right,” Cathy said as the waitress came over, and we gave our orders. Once she had left, she said “I’m working for Mark Williamson at his accountancy office, as a receptionist. Satisfied?”
“I am,” I said with a smile as our drinks came over. “And now, Alicia?”
“All right, all right,” she said as she sat back. “I’m working with Donald Parker.”
“The vet? You’re doing work experience at the vets?”
Alicia nodded, and said “I spent the whole day out at a farm, taking records as he carried out TB tests. Have you any idea what it feels like when a cow backs into you? The only reason I still have feet is because I had steel toe capped wellies on – but I ache all over.”
“Whose idea was that?”
“Grandfather – who else?”
We all had to giggle at that, as our starters arrived.
“Long day,” Dad said as I finally went into the house. I nodded as I slumped into the armchair, Mum bringing me through a drink.
“First day is always the worst,” she said as she handed me the glass, and then sat down. “Where did Connie take you?”
“To see the family who were robbed last night, then Colin’s dad, then the archives to see what I could find out about this masked intruder. I guess I start looking into Lady Holderness tomorrow.”
“Sounds good – Connie said she’ll pick you up at eight.”
The next day and a half I spent in the office, looking through old records and doing web searches about Lord and Lady Holderness between 1989 and today. I did find out a few interesting things – how on ascending to be Lord Holderness in 1989, he became the head of the board at the Red Ribbon Shipping Company. That was a name I recognised from the conversations we had at the time of the attack at Holderness Manor, so I allowed myself a little time to look at the company website.
Bobby’s father is the current chairman of the board, with Lord Holderness as the owner and – Emeritus Chairman, it said on the web site. I only spent a little time on their site, but what I saw was enough to show me just how wealthy the family was.
That was a diversion, however, and I started to look at some of the events Lady Holderness had pointed out to me the other day – in particular, the church hall fire. The blaze had been the result of an electrical fault, and left the building a shell, with the plan at the time to demolish it and not replace it. Lady Holderness had objected to that, and set up a series of charitable events to raise the funds that allowed them to rebuild the hall, keeping as much as the original structure as possible.
One of the things that really intrigued me was that she had organised something called an auction of promises – getting local people to commit to doing some sort of work or perform a duty, in return for a donation. The reason it caught my eye was one of the people making a promise was my late grandfather. He’d agreed to take whoever bid the most on a tour of the Ministry of Defence – and the highest bidder paid a fair amount for it.
Dad was also mentioned – he’d agreed to offer a weekend’s gardening. In fact, quite a few people I recognised had made similar promises – Cathy’s mothers had offered a complete floral display for an event, and a car as well, as one example.
I also started to look into another thing that Lady Holderness had done, back in 1991, in the early days of Comic Relief. It turned out that she had organised a comedy night at Holderness Manor that particular year, and when I looked at the list of acts she had persuaded to take part…
“Oh yes, I remember that night,” she said on the Wednesday evening as I sat with her in our front room, “Do you remember Miranda?”
“I do indeed – you’d somehow got Tony Robinson and Rowan Atkinson to do a five minute Blackadder sketch, using the characters from the third series. I remember, because after the show they spent hours with David discussing the end of the final series.”
“That must have been fascinating,” I said, the tape recorder still going as I said “But how did you manage to get so many world class acts to come and take part? Holderness is not the centre of the show business universe, after all.”
“Oh we had our ways – but mostly gentle persuasion,” Lady Holderness said with a smile. “The real coup was getting the Americans to come over.”
“So I saw – that was amazing.”
“It was,” Granny said, “the group from Saturday Night Live in particular.”
“Well, Lorne Michaels owed Desmond a favour,” Lady Holderness said with an enigmatic smile. “Still, quite a night and it did raise a most astounding amount of money – over ten thousand pounds.”
Smiling, I said “Well, I wonder if it would be possible to discuss another matter with you, Lady Holderness – one I need to switch the tape recorder off for.”
“Now that sounds mildly ominous,” Granny said as I reached down and switched off the recorder. “What is it you want to talk about you don’t want an aural record of?”
“Well, it’s personal, but it relates to another matter I am researching. You read about the break in in Dewcot on the early hours of Monday morning.
“I saw a mention of it in the paper, nothing more,” Lady Holderness said, “why should it concern me?”
“The thief was identified by the mask he was wearing – a green balaclava.”
I saw Granny and Lady Holderness exchange a look, before she said “and naturally, your aunt had you look into the earlier robberies by this person?”
“She did – I recognised a few names, but there was on I recognised that I did not tell her of – a robbery in late 1988, one of the first in fact.”
“Ah – well, I applaud your discretion in that case,” Lady Holderness said quietly, “but yes, that was a few months before we moved here, in our old house.”
She took a deep breath, and said “What would you like to know?”
“Can you tell me what happened that night?”
Lady Holderness sat back and put her fingers under her chin. “Let me see – Anne would have been about sixteen, maybe a little younger. Desmond had taken Alexander on a weekend father-son thing, so we were both alone in the house. I was asleep in bed when I heard some voices. Now, it took me a while to realise something was not quite right, but it was when I heard Anne say quiet loudly ‘No’ then I fully woke up.
“Before I had a chance to get out of bed, however, the door opened and Anne was pushed in by this masked man – and yes, before you say it, it was a green balaclava. Anne was wearing an orange and white striped vest top and shorts, but there was a band of silver around her arms, and her wrists were quite clearly behind her back. There were also several strips of silver tape over her mouth.
“The man spoke quietly, but made it very clear what he wanted.” Lady Holderness took a sip from her coffee cup and put it down. “In the line of work Desmond and I were involved in at the time, one of the first things you had to learn was when to do something and when not to do something. With Anne in the position she was in, this was one of those occasions when you did not do something.
“So I allowed him to tape my arms and wrists – ruining in the process a very nice pair of silk pyjamas – and then we lay next to each other on the bed as he taped our ankles and legs. I then directed him to several jewellery boxes – he had been shaking as he taped my arms, so I felt he would be satisfied with something.
“To cut a long story short, he then taped my mouth over, and left us. I remember the clock showed it was four in the morning – because the very first thing I did was to open the drawer in the bedside cabinet, and find my nail scissors.
“It took nearly three hours to free Anne, and then for her to free me – which was when Miranda found us.”
She nodded as she said “your grandfather and I were going to take the two of them into town for the day. When we arrived, the front door was open, so we knew something was wrong. We found them sitting up in bed, peeling the tape away from their mouths. The police were called, but as Lucinda said, only a few things were taken.”
I nodded and said “thanks, Lady Holderness – and don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone else.”
The following night, I was at home with Cassie. Colin and Bobby had come round as well, as we sat in joggers and jumpers – standard wear for Cassie all week, but it was such a blessed relief not to be in a blouse and skirt.
“So how’s it going working for your dad,” Cassie said as she drank some of her coke.
“Hard work – I know he wants me to learn a bit more about the business, but post boy at the head office? I’m telling you, I never knew you could cram so many floors and rooms into one building!”
“Red Ribbon Shipping – dedicated to the naval tradition?” Colin was smirking, which earned him a slap from me.
“If you mean contemplating the navel, possibly,” Bobby snapped back. “Actually, it’s a very well run machine, but the amount of paperwork they still need to keep for legal reasons – it’s a miracle Dad can keep it all in his mind.”
“Probably his training – and you haven’t seen paperwork until you see what Dad has to put up with,” Colin said as he cuddled me.
“So how’s the reporting gig?”
“Not too bad,” I said as I looked at Bobby, “Connie has me checking files half the time, doing back-up research, and the rest of the time I’m working on the article about your grandparents.”
“Heh – found out anything I don’t know yet?”
I smiled at Bobby and said nothing. I had learned a few things, but I could not tell him before the article came out. I just knew one or two things were going to surprise him.
“Oh, before I forget Jenny, Patty is coming over for a sleepover this weekend. Apparently Aunt Jessie has a party somewhere.”
“Isn’t Dad away this weekend?”
“Oh yeah,” Cassie said as she remembered, “He’s away at that meeting with Mr Williamson. Ah well – I guess Mum will just have to cope with all of us.”
So much for a quiet weekend, I thought to myself.
“Well, why don’t we do something Saturday afternoon – go and see the new Muppet movie?”
“Hey, that’s an idea,” Colin said, “I haven’t seen it yet. Want me to see if I get some tickets booked – we can grab some lunch before hand?”
“Sounds good to me,” I said, “What do you say Cassie?”
“Oh yeah,” Cassie said with a smile, “because I get the distinct feeling we won’t get a chance to do anything that night…”
“Right,” Aunt Connie said as I sat down with her on the Friday afternoon, “you had two specific projects to look into. Let’s deal with the Holderness family one first – got your plan for your article?”
I handed her a four page document which I had typed out, mentioning dates, events and source materials I had dug up. As she looked over it, I watched her pick up a green pen and make several annotations, before she handed it back to me.
“Not bad, O niece of mine,” she said with a smile, “I have a few suggestions, but not bad at all. Your task on Monday will be to write up a first draft – by the time we’re finished, the article needs to be about five thousand words, with accompanying pictures. Remember – once I have reviewed it, Lord and Lady Holderness need to look at it as well and approve it.”
“Thanks,” I said as I took it back.
“Now, the man in the green mask.”
“I reviewed the police files and the newspaper reports,” I said as I looked at my notebook. “The police had two suspects in mind – a thirty year old man called Dennis Bradley, and a twenty year old man called Karl Quist.”
“Okay – why were they never arrested?”
“Good question – Bradley had an alibi for the vast majority of the dates when the Green Mask struck, involving business trips. He was seen in the hotels he had booked into, and the security staff there had no record of him leaving the hotel. Besides, some of them were over a hundred miles away. As for Quist, well, that’s a little more complicated.”
“In what way?”
“He seems to have never been recorded as a suspect officially. Colin let me see some of the notebooks used by the police at the time, and he is mentioned in them, but nowhere else.”
Aunt Connie sat back and thought for a moment. “Unusual – which makes me wonder if he wasn’t doing more than one job. What happened to Bradley?”
“He moved away from the area, with his wife and two children. I managed to find this,” I said as I handed Connie a clipping from an obituary column.
“Died two years ago? Right then – can you let me work on this over the weekend, see what I can find about both of them. For now, you’re off the clock – enjoy your weekend off.”
“Thanks Aunt Connie,” I said as I pushed my chair back, put my notes and books into my bag, and set off – I had the weekend to myself!
Well, relatively speaking – midday on the Saturday found me and Connie sitting in the KFC opposite the cinema with Bobby and Colin. I had on a long grey cardigan over a white blouse, blue jeans and a pair of mid-length black leather boots, with the legs tucked in under the leather, while Cassie was wearing a black sweatshirt and knee length skirt, with her black fur boots.
“One week down, one to go,” Bobby said as he picked up a chicken drumstick and bit into it. “And I don’t need to be back in until Tuesday.”
“Lucky you,” I said with a sigh, “I’ll be working on my draft article. What about you Colin?”
“Dad wants me in to do some boxing of files, so I’ll be working as well.”
“Oh I so love the holidays,” Cassie started singing as she looked at all three of us.
“I don’t suppose you brought the clear tape this time,” Colin said as he looked at Bobby.
“Not this time,” Bobby said, “but I could always make sure she cannot taunt by another method.”
“Oh,” Cassie said as she smiled at Bobby, “and how do you intend to do that?”
“By keeping you supplied with popcorn and drinks for the duration of the movie,” Bobby replied. “Then you won’t be able to say anything.”
“Hasn’t stopped her before,” I said with a smile.
“Thanks a bunch,” Cassie said as she reached over and stole some of my chips – just as Bobby stole some of hers.
“Made you look,” Bobby said with a smile.
The film was good, I’ll grant you that, and helped us all to forget about the week. By the time we got back to our house, we could see the VW outside, and knew our quiet Saturday was at an end.
“Hey there,” Patty said as we came into the front room. She was curled up on the sofa, wearing a Hello Kitty blue t-shirt, denim shorts, leggings and white socks.
“Hey trouble,” Cassie said as she took her coat off, “no Rachel this weekend?”
“Visiting relatives for the Easter holidays. Aunt Jennifer’s going to order some pizza in a little while, and then we can sit and watch a film together.”
“What one did you have in mind,” Jenny said as she looked at Patty.
“Your choice – but I’m only a minor, so nothing too nasty.”
The boys indicated they wanted to see us in the corridor, so we left Patty to the book she was reading and went back out.
“See you guys at the Hall tomorrow – you’re coming for Sunday lunch, remember?”
“How could we forget,” I said as Colin hugged me, and Bobby hugged Cassie, and then gave us each a little kiss.
“Cassie and Bobby, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S…”
“Get her,” Cassie called out as she rugby tackled Patty, while I showed the boys out.
“Do I hear the dulcet tones of my beloved daughter mocking you again,” Aunt Jessica said as I closed the door and turned round.
“I think it was, yes – Cassie is offering her comments on the matter right now.” I could hear the muffled giggles, and as I looked in Cassie was sitting across Patty’s stomach, tickling her ribs as the ends of a hankie stuck out from Patty’s mouth.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Patty,” Aunt Jessie said from behind me.
“Ltrrrttmm,” was her muffled response as she waved at her mum.
“All right, Cassie,” Mum said as she came in, “stop that now. Jenny, can you give me a hand giving the twins their tea, and then I’ll phone out for a few pizzas?”
I nodded and left them to their discussion of manners, choosing instead the joy of finger painting with David and June. Actually, they weren’t that bad for once, and an hour or so later they were in their playpen, gurgling happily as we sat with pizza boxes in hand, watching Hairspray.
When the film finished, Mum got up and said “We’ll bathe the twins first, then you can all get changed – I can find something else for you to watch after that.”
I carried June up in my arms, Mum taking David, and we gave them a bath before putting on their nappies and sleepsuits, and settling them in their beds, Mum sitting with them while I want to change for bed. Putting on an old t-shirt and a pair of loose bottoms, I went back downstairs to see that Cassie and Patty had already decided to play a game, no matter what was happening.
They were sitting on the floor, Patty in a pink onesie with black tiger paws, and Suzie in a short sleeved blue nightdress, with their legs parallel to each other and their ankles within reach of each other’s hands. They had already bound each other’s ankles with rope, the bands neatly arranged and cinched, and they were in the process of moving so that they could reach each other’s legs.
“Hey Jenny,” Patty said as she looked up, “can you tie our wrists and arms when we have gagged ourselves?”
“Sure, if it means the two of you stop teasing each other,” I said as I watched them tie each other’s legs together below their knees, and then push a sponge ball into their mouths, covering their closed lips with a strip of the wide white tape that stuck so well to their skin. I then knelt behind each of them in turn, crossing and tying their wrists together before I tied their arms to their sides with ropes around their lower arms and stomachs.
Cassie nodded and looked down at her upper arms, but I shook my head as Mum came in. “Jenny’s right – that’s tight enough for tonight,” she said as she sat down, and turned the television back on. “I’m going to put on that recording of the Horrible Histories prom for you to watch.”
So the two of them moved round so that they were sitting against the couch, while I curled my feet up and we sat to watch the show. They both sang along as best they could, while Mum and I – well, we just watched.
Eventually, however, it was time for bed, and despite Patty’s protests Mum insisted they were untied and ungagged for the night. I walked up the stairs with them, watching as Patty went into Cassie’s room with her, and finally settling into my own bed. I think I was asleep within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow.
I’m not sure what it was that woke me up, but I opened my eyes and looked at my bedside alarm. It was four in the morning, but I could hear talking from Cassie’s bedroom.
“Great – they pick tonight to do an all night sleepover,” I said to myself as I got out of bed, and padded towards their door. Yup, Patty was talking, so I opened the door and said “Do you know what time it…”
“And I’m telling you it’s not enough – oh hi Jenny, we’ve got a visitor.”
Patty was right – we did have a visitor. A tall man, dressed in dark clothes, and with a green balaclava mask over his head.
Cassie was sitting on her bed, her hands obviously behind her back and a strip of silver tape over her mouth. Patty also had her hands behind her back, but she was looking at the man, saying “You need to put something in our mouth, and then…”
“Keep quiet – you’re going to wake the babies up.”
“Babies?” It was the first time the man had spoken, and I could hear he was a young man – which meant he could not be the other suspect from the past.
“That’s right – twins, only a year old, and you do not want them woken up.”
Cassie rolled her eyes as I said “Patty, we need to keep them asleep, whatever happens, so let the man do what he is going to do and stop complaining. Play along, all right?”
“If you insist.”
“Owwdd,” Cassie mumbled as Patty closed her mouth, allowing the intruder to cover her mouth with two strips of the silver tape.
“Sit next to her,” he said as he pointed to Cassie, and then he looked at me.
“I know who you are,” I said quietly, “You’re the man the police call the Green Mask, aren’t you?”
“That’s right,” he said quietly, “and if you know who I am, you know what’s going to happen next.”
“Yes, I think I do,” I said, “but before you do that, can I ask you a few questions? I’ve been doing some research on you, you see, and…”
“I won’t tell you who I am.”
“I wasn’t going to ask you that – I know it will be a waste of time – but there are some things I would like to know, so that I can include them in my report for the local paper.”
He looked at me, and then said “all right – but nothing personal.”
“All right – but if you’re going to tape my hands, I’ll need to record it. Cassie, where do you keep your cassette recorder now?”
She nodded to a cupboard, from which I took out the old recorder, and thanked someone there was a blank tape in it. Setting it up and switching it on, I started by asking “Do you know they call you the Green Mask?”
“I’ve seen that – I think it fits, don’t you?”
“I guess so,” I said, smiling as the other two watched me. “Why Green by the way? Most robbers would wear black or something, so was it so that you would be remembered?”
“Why not? When I started, it was what I had to hand, but it became my trademark.”
“I can understand that – where did you get the idea to start with the children first?”
“Turn round,” he said as he pulled the tape away from the roll. I turned round, and said “You didn’t answer my question,” as he put my wrists together behind my back and I felt the tape sticking to them as he forced them together.
“Why start at the youngest and work up? Because it means the older kids – like you – are more likely to want to keep the youngsters in line, and your parents will be concerned about all of you.”
“So it’s about you controlling the situation,” I said as I heard him tear the tape again, and his hand as he smoothed it down.
“Exactly,” he said as the tape tore again, and I watched him pass it round my arms and stomach, taping them to my sides.
“But you disappeared for twenty years – why are you back now?”
“To show I can still do it – I was there years before these latest jackanapes, and they need to know they are not the first.”
“Wffmtthtm,” Patty mumbled under her tape.
“Really? Well then, now you have the complete set,” he said as he made them both stand up, and taped their arms to their sides as well.
“But your voice is too young to be the original Green Mask – unless you’re disguising it?”
“Too personal a question,” he said as he finished taping Cassie’s arms. “You can have one more question.”
“Very well then – why? Why do this?”
“Because I can,” he said as he tore a strip of tape from the roll. “Lips together, girl – the interview is over.”
“Remember, you two – play along,” I said before closing my mouth, and feeling the tape pressing against my lips as he placed two strips on. They both nodded as he then took us through to talk to Mum.
“Oh no, not again,” was all she said as she saw the three of us standing there, taped up, and the Green Mask behind us.
“The kids have been most co-operative,” he said quietly, “it’s your turn now Mummy. Where are your valuables?”
Now, I knew one thing the others didn’t – Mum and Dad did not keep many really valuable things in the house any more, not after the first visit by Jay Edwards. But he wasn’t to know that, so Mum showed him where she had some costume jewellery and some money, before he taped her wrists and arms, and then over her mouth.
He made me lie on the bed with Mum, while Cassie and Jenny sat on the floor on the other side of the room, before he taped our ankles and our legs below our knees. Mum had on her white cotton pyjamas, so that by the time he had finished we all had three silver bands, as well as one over our mouths.
“Have fun,” he said as he walked out of the room, and I silently prayed he hadn’t taken the tape. We listened to him walking down the stairs, and then the front door opening and closing.
Mum waited five more minutes, and then sat up, me following suit as we both looked at Cassie and Patty.
Cassie and Patty looked at each toher, and then nodded as I looked at Mum.
“Lssttgtggffslsr,” she said as she nodded, and we all started to twist our mouths round, using our tongues as well to get the tape away from our mouths. To be honest, we all managed it in three minutes, so none of us were losers.
“Cassie, you take care of Patty,” I said as Patty turned her back to my sister, “I’ll take care of Mum.” We both started to use our teeth to pick at and then peel the tape away from the arms of Patty and Mum, and then their wrists, so that they could free themselves and then us.
“Well done girls,” Mum said as she hugged all three of us. “I’ll call the police. Cassie, you and Patty make sure the twins are all right. Jenny, see if he took anything else.”
I went to our rooms and checked, but he hadn’t taken anything else – and he had left the tape in the machine. I rewound it and played it back, smiling as I heard our conversation - it was just what I needed.
“The poor guy must have had no idea what he had stumbled into.”
“That poor guy had all four of us taped up, you know?”
“I know,” Colin said as he looked at me, “but honestly, if he had known, you would have been a lot more tightly secured. He could have mummified all four of you.”
“Hey that’s something we haven’t tried,” Patty said from the other side of the dinner table at Wissenden Hall.
The chorus from Mum, Aunt Jessica, Bobby’s mum and our grandmothers kept Patty quiet – a rare feat, but worth seeing. All of us were there for Sunday dinner, and Mum had just finished telling the Holderness clan everything that had happened.
Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave, as well as Aunt Cassie and Aunt Jo, were there as well as Colin’s parents.
“I don’t suppose you have the tape – sorry, the recording with you now,” Mister Hampton said as he looked at me.
“Actually, I do – would you like to hear it?”
“After we have had dinner,” Dad said as he held Mum’s hand. “You can take Colin’s father and Aunt Connie into the library and play it there, while we sit in the front room.”
“As for the rest of you,” Mrs Holderness said as she looked round the table, “Mrs Boyle hid some Easter eggs around the hall today – you can see if you can find them, with Colin and Bobby as the judges.”
“YES,” Patty said, as both Cassie and Suzie looked at her.
A short while later, I was sitting with Mister Hampton and Aunt Connie as we listened to the tape.
“Well, you’re right about one thing,” Mister Hampton said as he listened to the Green Mask, “he’s too young to be the same guy. In fact, he sounds not that much older than Angela.”
“Good questions, though, given the circumstances,” Aunt Connie said. “Barry, could it be a family member?”
“Possible – in fact, more than likely. Jenny, I need to borrow this if I may – I’ll get a digital copy made and sent to you.”
“That’s fine,” I said as I looked at him. “Mister Hampton, can I ask a question?”
“If I can answer it, yes. What’s the question?”
“Why did Karl Quist never appear as a suspect to the original robberies?”
He looked at me, and said quietly “because we know he didn’t do them. Quist was an undercover officer – a plant in gangland. No, I think what we have here is a case of like father, like son – but don’t quote me.
“Hey Jenny – you done in there?”
I looked at Aunt Connie and Mister Hampton, who both nodded before I got up and walked out of the room.
“What’s up,” I said as I looked at Colin.
“We seem to have lost some Easter egg hunt contestants – they didn’t come your way did they?”
“Not guilty my lord,” I said with a smile, “so looking forward to next week?”
“A little more than last week,” Colin said with a smile, “mainly because it’s nearly over. Still, it does confirm one thing in my mind.”
“No way do I want to be a police officer – the amount of paperwork and forms those guys have to fill out…”
“Funny – I’ve never really seen you in a uniform,” I said with a smile. “Something tells me you’d be better off doing something else.”
“Yeah,” Colin said as he held my hand, “pity I can’t figure out what yet.”
“Hang on – you said the three of them had gone missing?”
“Hmmm – oh yeah, Bobby can’t find them either. He went out to the playhouse to check there.”
“About…” Colin looked at his watch, then looked at me. “Thirty minutes ago – what’s happened to him?”
“I think we might find out in the playhouse,” I said as we headed outside, and up the stairs. In one of the rooms, we could hear Suzie and Patty giggling away, so we cautiously opened the door and looked in.
Cassie and Bobby were sitting back to back, their wrists tied together in front of them and the rope running down until it went around and between their ankles. Rope had also been tied around their waists and shoulders, to hold them together, and their arms to their sides.
They both had a knotted scarf tied in their mouths, and were subject to the dreaded Bare Feet Tickle Torture by Patty and Suzie, who were getting a great deal of enjoyment from their responses.
“You know,” I said as we closed the door, “just this once, I think I’m going to let them get on with it. What do you say?”
“I agree entirely – come on, we’ll go for a walk in the woods.”
When we came back in, we joined the other adults in the main room, and Mrs Boyle brought us each a mug of hot chocolate. As we sipped from the mugs, Aunt Cassie said “Jenny, Jo and I have been discussing how we’re going to get married. You know we can’t really have a church wedding, right?”
“I know – but you’re not really wanting a big wedding, are you?”
“Nah,” Jo said with a smile, “but we do want you to be a part of it. Would you be willing to read something at the ceremony for us, once we have the details sorted out?”
“I’d love to,” I said with a smile, “but won’t Cassie feel left out? And what about Patty?”
“Oh don’t you worry,” Aunt Cassie said quietly, “my darling nieces are going to be playing a very special part on the day – they just don’t know it yet.”
“Oh – a mystery.”
“And so it shall remain,” Mum said with a smile. “But we are looking for it to be in June, right?”
“Right,” Aunt Cassie said.
After that, the conversation fell to mundane things, and eventually Cassie and the others joined us.
“What happened to all the Easter eggs,” Dad said as they came in.
“Easter eggs? Aw damn, I knew we forgot to do something,” Patty said as she looked at the others.
“Really? What could possibly have distracted you from…” Aunt Jessica looked at us, and then said “Never mind – we’ll collect some for you later. Before we head off.”
“How’s it going,” Aunt Connie said as I sat at the computer terminal, finishing the piece she had asked me to write.
“There we go,” I said as I let her look over my shoulder.
“Behind The Green Mask – nice title,” she said as she looked down. “Okay… Okay… Bit of a mixed metaphor there, but I see where you’re going. Right – I like it, do you like it?”
I nodded as she said “then let’s see if someone else likes it. Send it to the editor, and see what he says.”
I sent an e-mail to the editor’s in-box, with the article attached, and then saved it to a stick, before looking at Aunt Connie. “Won’t Colin’s dad want to see this as well?”
“Well, technically, legal will run it past them, but I’m not in the mood for technicalities today. Get your coat on – we’ll go and see him now.”
I took my jacket from the back of the chair and put it on, waiting until Aunt Connie had put her own coat on, before we headed for the exit.
“Hold it you two!”
“Oh boy,” I heard Aunt Connie say, and we turned to see her editor standing at the door of his office, his arms folded as he looked at us.
“Your article,” he said as he walked towards us, the other reporters watching, “I just looked it over. I only have one thing to say to you.”
“What’s that sir?”
“Good job – keep it up, you might make a reporter yet. Where you going?”
“Sneak peek to interested parties?”
He nodded a she looked at Aunt Connie. “Say hi to Hampton for me then,” he said before he turned and went back to his office, closing the door behind him.
“If I was you,” Aunt Connie said with a smile, “I’d take that compliment and run.”
As we walked into the police station, we were surprised to see Brian sitting in the reception area.
“Hey,” he said as he looked at us, “Barry asked if Sarah could come down and talk to a couple of people – they had a rough experience lately, and Sarah is very good at getting them to talk about and deal with things like that.”
“Really? Is she some sort of counsellor now?”
“You might say that,” Brian said with a smile as a door at the side opened and Sarah came out. I saw her watch face glowing pink as she hugged her husband.
“Hello you two,” she said as she saw us. “I’m glad I bumped into both of you – Lucinda was wondering if you were still coming round tomorrow morning?”
“I think so,” I said as I saw a woman in her mid fifties and a twenty year old girl come out of the office. They smiled and thanked Sarah before they walked out of the police station.
“Good,” Sarah said as she looked at me. “And how are you? I heard about Saturday?”
“On a scale of one to ten, one being a normal game and ten being the Pearl of Great Price – a three. No biggie – the worst bit was keeping my cousin from waking the twins.”
Sarah burst out laughing and shook her head. “Fair enough,” she said as Brian held the door open, and two young men in white overalls came in. Sarah and Brian looked at them, and then turned and stood as they walked up to me and Aunt Connie.
“Martin? So this is what you ended up doing?”
“That’s right – I’ve been a cleaner for the last week,” he said as he looked at us. “This is Curt, my partner in crime.”
“A pleasure to meet you both,” the young red haired lad said as he held out his hand, but both Aunt Connie and I were staring at him.
“Say that again,” Aunt Connie said, very slowly this time.
“I said it was a pleasure to meet you both,” Curt repeated, looking at both of us. “Why – what’s wrong?”
“It’s you,” I said quietly, “you broke into our house on Saturday night. I recognise your voice.”
“I’m sorry,” Martin said as he looked at me, “who is he meant to be?”
“You’re the Green Mask.”
Curt looked at me, and then turned to run – straight into Brian, who grabbed his arm and said quietly “If I was you, young man, I’d answer the young lady. I thought I felt something about you.”
“She scared me, so I decided to run, what’s wrong with…” He looked at Sarah, who was smiling at him, and then said “You can’t prove anything.”
“She doesn’t have to,” Mr Hampton said as he came out, “we have a copy of the recording he made, and a voice comparison system. Why don’t you come with me and have a chat while we find out? Take him to IR 1, Bob.”
“Sure thing, Mr Hampton,” Sergeant Clark said as he led Curt off, and Aunt Connie looked at me.
“Maybe we need to do a last minute edit to your piece, hmmm?”
“Very impressive,” Lady Holderness said as she folded the paper and I looked at the bottom of the front page.
Crime Spree Thwarted. Son of notorious thief trapped by voice recording.
“And your own by-line as well. I think you have more than earned your stripes on this, Jennifer.”
I blushed and said “Thank you” as we sat in the library at Holderness Manor.
“Well now, tell me what you are going to write about Desmond and myself…”
I handed an outline over to Lady Holderness and allowed her a few minutes to read over it.
“Very nice,” she eventually said, “I particularly like the way you describe how we came to live at the manor house – it shows a great deal of respect in the opening paragraphs.”
“Granny helped a lot with that,” I said with a blush. “What about the specific fund raising events?”
“I think all of them make good choices – but I note you do not propose to say much about Desmond’s business dealings.”
“I don’t feel I’m qualified to – and besides, it was not in my brief to do so.”
“Both valid reasons,” Lady Holderness said as she handed me back the sheets. “When will you have the final draft ready for me?”
“By Thursday, barring any unforeseen complications – why?”
“Excellent,” she said as we both saw the door to the library open, and Alicia come in. She was wearing a pair of brown overalls, and I could see some smudges on her face.
“Hey Jenny,” she said as she stood in the hallway. “You asked me to drop in to see you, Grandmother?”
“Both so you actually,” Lady Holderness said as she looked at Alicia, then at me in my light grey blouse, black skirt and jacket. “In all seriousness, I never thought I would see the roles of both of you reversed in this way. Without wishing to give offence, Alicia, may I suggest we go to the kitchen and sit at the table there?”
“None taken,” Alicia said as we both stood up and followed Lady Holderness into the kitchen. Mrs Bridges took one look at Alicia, and made a pot of tea as we sat round the old wooden table.
“Thank you, Mrs Bridges,” Lady Holderness said as she poured the tea into three mugs and handed them over, “would you leave us alone for a few minutes please?”
As the housekeeper went out, Lady Holderness said “I wanted to talk to both of you about a small party I wish to organise the weekend of the bank holiday, at the manor house here. It is a small garden party, for the mothers and a few others that I shall name for you.”
“It sounds like a wonderful idea,” Alicia said, “but why the secrecy, unless…” She then looked at me and said “Oh no, you’re not suggesting…”
“Actually,” Lady Holderness said as she sipped her tea, “I am. Interested?”
I looked at both of them, before saying “I’m sorry, but I think you lost me three stops back. What is your grandmother proposing, Alicia?”
“She is suggesting the invitations are sent in the same way that we were invited to the party between Christmas and New Year, right?”
I looked at Lady Holderness as she slowly nodded her head, and then said “and we are going to organise this how?”
“Entirely up to you – although actually kidnapping them may not be an option. Still, I am sure you will think of a very effective way to bring them all here, and then to look after them.”
“I knew there would be a catch,” Alicia said with a smile. “The daughters are going to have to look after the mother’s aren’t they?”
“Why yes, yes they are,” she said with the sweetest of smiles…
“Martin told me about yesterday,” Alicia said as we sat outside, looking at the garden. “Quite a shock to him, I can tell you?”
“Imagine how I felt,” I said as I sat forward, “I never thought I would hear that voice again.”
“Who was he anyway?”
“Curt Bradley – the son of one of the suspects. According to Colin, his dad discovered he had known of what his father did, and decided to try his hand at it.”
“Not very good at it, was he?”
“Not really, no – but it was still a shock. At any rate, he should have taken that recording – I only did it as a whim, but I never thought he would actually leave it.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know how a tape recorder works – it was very old school of you, after all.
“Changing the subject completely,” Alicia said as she closed her eyes, “Friday night seven o’clock, my place – end of hell celebration. You up for it?”
“What about your parents?”
“They’re out for the night, as is Angela – as we get the place to ourselves. Just the four of us.”
“Pizza and fun?”
“That’s the intent – no younger sisters, except we need to keep an eye on Andrew – and none of the boys.”
“You’re on,” I said with a smile, before I stood up. “I’d better get back – got some things still to sort out before I finish today. See you Friday?”
Alicia nodded and smiled as I went to catch the bus back into town…
“Hard at it, I see,” Aunt Connie said as she came up behind me at the desk. I saved the document I was working on, turned and smiled before saying “Sure am – Lady Holderness approved the outline, so I’m now filling in the details.”
“I like the events you chose to highlight,” she said to me as she sat down, “just remember you have a limited number of words and space, so report the facts and keep it interesting.”
“What did you find out about the guy who was the Green Mask?”
“Open and shut case,” she said as she looked at me. “He confessed when the recording was played back to him. You might get some sort of recognition for that.”
“It’s becoming a habit with our family,” I said with a rueful smile. “Most of which gets covered by the Craig Compact, of course.”
“Of course,” Aunt Connie said. “You know, your grand father would have been incredibly proud of the way you and Cassie have grown up.”
“Was he proud of you, when you became a journalist?”
“He was, actually,” Aunt Connie said. “We all knew Cassie was going to be the one to follow in his footsteps, so he encouraged your father and me to follow our own dreams. He was good like that – and he would have said the same to you.
“Now get that article finished – I need to proof read it before it goes anywhere, remember?”
The rest of the week became a blur for me, as I wrote, re-wrote, re-re-wrote and edited the report before handing it to Aunt Connie – who made some suggestions for changes, which I re-re-re-wrote. While this was going on, Cassie had the whole week off, spending most of it with Granny or at Wissenden with Suzie.
But when Friday finally came around, I found myself at two in the afternoon sitting in one of the meeting rooms at the newspaper office, writing out the last pages of my diary as I waited for the verdict on the main article.
When I looked back over the fortnight, I realised I had managed to get a heck of a lot done, even in the limited time I had. Of course, helping to catch the newest thief in town was a bit of an unexpected bonus, but as Dad said, every little helps in this.
Looking up, I saw the editor walk in with Aunt Connie, who sat next to me as her boss sat opposite us.
“Right then,” he said as he looked at me, “we’ll get to your work in a minute, Jennifer. Connie, your impressions please – and I am remembering that this is your niece.”
“Any accusations of nepotism aside,” Aunt Connie said, “I think she has demonstrated a real and natural talent. She asked the right questions, probed where she was uncertain of things, and understood the importance of proper and well planned research.
“She also demonstrated real thinking and bravery in uncovering the new Green Mask, although I have to say I expected nothing less of her.”
I had to smile at that, given some of the things that have happened to all our family. Even her editor saw the funny side of it, as he said “yes, well – the whole Pearl of Great Price story is still the most personal and fantastic piece you have ever produced Connie. If your niece is anything like you, and I have to say the signs are promising, she has a very long career ahead of her.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as I heard that, and then he said “I think there are things you need to learn in your lessons, Jennifer. A little more attention to structure – your article gets a little personal at the end – but on the whole, very well done. We’ll be watching you, and perhaps we can help you when you finally choose your career path.”
“Thank you,” I said as Aunt Connie smiled at me.
“And your article,” the editor said as he stood up, “will be in the weekend supplement this Saturday. Very well done Jennifer – it’s been a real pleasure to have you here.”
“Stay here a minute,” Aunt Connie said as they both stood up, and left the room. I wasn’t going anywhere at the moment, anyway – I was shaking at what he had told me was going to do with my work!
A few minutes later, Aunt Connie came back in and sat down, looking at me. “Deep slow breaths,” she said quietly, “and then look at me.”
I took several deep breaths and then turned to look at her. I saw the smile break out on her face as she looked at me, and then said “high five, girl – you did it,” as she held her palm up.
I slapped the palm of my hand against hers and then hugged her. “How’s your work diary?”
“Up to date,” I said.
“Good – I want you to come with me down to the layout room. Let’s see the finished article.”
She took me down to the print room and showed me the arranged article, with the reference photos I had picked out, laid out on six pages, and then nodded as the printer sent it to the final package.
“I think that calls for a celebration,” Aunt Connie said as she put her arm round my shoulder. “Come on – I’ll buy you coffee and cake before I take you home.”
“Well, work all done,” Mum said as I came into the house.
“All done – what’s for tea?”
“I’m going to cook some fish in a few minutes – Bobby is coming to take Cassie out to the pictures later. What are you planning to do?”
“I’m going to Alicia’s place – remember,” I called down as I hung my jacket and skirt up, and pulled the jumper off.
“Oh yeah – sorry, forgot for a moment. Tea won’t be long.”
I smiled as I pulled on a pair of black leggings – and then looked to the door as it slowly opened.
“All right, Cas,” I said quietly, “What do you want?”
“I need to work on being quiet,” Cassie said as she came in. “I wanted to talk to you about school.”
“Starts next week,” I said with a smile, “what about it?”
“Not next term, next year. I start at your school then, remember?”
Now that made me stop and look at her for a moment. Daft as it may sound, I had clear forgotten about the letter Mum and Dad got last month, stating that Cassandra Paulette Craig would be starting at my school in September.
“It’s a bit early to be worrying about that, isn’t it,” I said as I found my black and white patterned smock top. “You have the whole of this term and the summer first – who knows what we may get up to between now and then?”
“I know – but it’s the last time I’m going to be in the same class as some of my friends.”
“True,” I said as I found my black leather boots, “but on the other hand, Patty won’t be bothering you during the breaks.”
Cassie looked at me and smiled as she said “Yeah, you’re right – that is a good point.”
“All right you two – tea’s ready,” Mum called up the stairs, as we both hugged and then went down to eat.
“Right – call me when you want a lift back,” Dad said as he dropped me outside Alicia’s house.
“I’ll do that,” I said as I shut the car door, waving to him as he drove off and then walking up the path before I rang the doorbell. Alicia opened it and smiled as I came in.
“Anyone else here,” I said as I looked at her, in her skinny jeans and blue hoodie.
“Nope – you’re first. Mum and Dad went off a few minutes ago,” she said as we went in and looked at Andrew, who was gurgling away in his chair.
“So he gets four babysitters tonight – lucky him,” I said as I tickled him under the chin, making him laugh as he looked at me.
The doorbell ringing again called Alicia away, and when she returned Mary was with her, wearing a blue denim blouse and shorts over a long sleeved black top and leggings, white socks and sneakers.
“Thank goodness that is over with,” she said as she slumped into a chair, “I never want to see another coconut macaroon again.”
“That’s a pity,” Alicia said as she went to the door again, “I have a big box of them in the kitchen for us…”
“She wouldn’t,” Mary said as she looked at me.
“She might,” I replied as I sat up, “after all, she just spent two weeks with a vet on farm calls.”
“Fair point,” she said as Cathy came in, a floral print scarf tied over her hair and a boho skirt and top on with baggy brown fabric boots.
“That’s a different look for you,” Mary said as she looked at our friend, “What happened?”
“Well,” Cathy said as she took off her glasses to wipe the steam off them, ”the staff at the office I worked out gave me a surprise this afternoon.”
“What sort of surprise?”
In answer, Cathy took the scarf off her hair, and we looked at the bleached blonde, short styled haircut.
“I know, it looks awful,” she said as she sat down.
“I wasn’t going to say that, would you say her hair looks bad Alicia?”
Alicia came in and looked at her, before saying “Whoever did it did a better job than on me. Don’t you like it?”
“I’m not sure – it’s just so different…”
“What do your mothers think of it?”
“No idea – I went straight upstairs, got changed, tied the scarf on and it stayed there until I came here.”
“And you don’t think they’ll have noticed the scarf covering all your hair, and not just the top part?”
Cathy suddenly realised what Mary was saying, and blushed. “Get your mobile phone out and take a selfie,” Alicia said, “then send it to them and see what they say.”
Cathy was actually trembling as she did that, and sent it to her mothers, before Alicia handed her a bottle of coke.
“Take a big drink,” she said, “and then wait for the reply. I’m going to cook up some popcorn.” As she went to the kitchen, we watched Cathy as she waited for the reply to come.
When her phone rang instead of giving the text signal, she swallowed a couple of times, before she answered it and said “Hi Mummy – what do you think?”
Mary and I watched her carefully as she talked in monosyllables and nods, before she said “Yeah, I understand Mummy – I’ll see you later.” She ended the call and looked at both of us.
“Well,” Cathy said as she took a deep breath, “they love it. Say it shows me in a completely new light. In fact, we’re going shopping in the morning for new clothes.”
“There you go,” Mary said as she went over and hugged Cathy, “told you everything would be all right.”
“Popcorn’s ready,” Alicia said as she brought the bowl in, “what are we going to watch?”
“Well, that’s him settled in his bed now,” Alicia said as she came back in, “Where’s Cathy?”
“Went to the kitchen to get some more drinks,” Mary said as she flipped through the channels.
“Funny – I didn’t hear anything from the kitchen,” Alicia said as she looked back along the corridor, “Want me to go and have a look?”
“Nah – sit down,” Mary said as she stood up, “I’ll go and see what’s happening.” As she left the room, Alicia sat down next to me.
“I hear you’re going to be in the paper tomorrow,” she said as we looked at the screen.
“How did you – no, don’t tell me, your grandmother.”
“Grandfather actually – we got a sneak preview today. So do you think this is the career for you?”
“Maybe – I’m not brave like Aunt Cassie or Aunt Jo. I’ve got a few years to make up my mind, however. Having said that, I did enjoy breaking that news story this week.”
“Yeah – so about this garden party. Any thoughts?”
“A few – we may need to get the boys to help us, but as far as my side is concerned, I can arrange for them all to be at home, I fix up a challenge, and once they are in no position to argue…”
“You get your father and your Uncle Dave to take care of things,” Alicia said, nodding her head. “Think you can get all of them?”
“All six? Not sure about Aunt Jessie, but I can get Patty to reel her in as well. What about you?”
“Well, it’s Mum and Angela for me, but I think with some help from Eddie I can do it. We’ll definitely need some help for Aunt Susan and their Granny Jacobs, however. Perhaps Bobby will be up for it?”
“We can but ask,” Alicia said as she looked to the doorway. “Funny – they should both be back by now.”
“Yeah – you don’t suppose…”
“They wouldn’t dare…”
Our questions were answered as soon as we asked them, as Colin and Martin jumped up from behind the couch and hand gagged both of us, dangling rolled and knotted scarves in front of our faces.
“Oh yes we would,” Colin said, “we’ll bring Mary and Cathy through in a minute, once we’ve got you both nice and quiet.”
“Lkkeehfachs,” Alicia mumbled before allowing Martin to pull the knot of silk into her mouth, closing her lips over it as he tied the band round her head. She raised an eyebrow as she watched Colin gag me, and then we both allowed the boys to tie our wrists together in front of us, and then ropes around our arms below our chests to lock them in place.
“Surprise,” Martin said as he knelt down and tied Alicia’s ankles tightly together, and then her legs below her knees, Colin doing the same to me before our wrists were tied down to our knees. “We felt we should give you both a chance to relax. Stay there a second.”
“Hhhhhverffnneee,” I said as I watched them both leave, and then bring Mary and Cathy back through.
“Sreeee,” Cathy mumbled as they were sat on the floor back to back, their legs bent and bound at the ankles and above their knees, and their wrists tied down before they were tied together around their waists.
“Nturflt,” Alicia said with a shrug of the shoulders as Martin and Colin went behind us and started to massage our shoulders. I began to feel more relaxed as they said “Don’t worry, we’re not going to tickle you.”
“Yet,” Martin said, “but there’s always time.”
“ummeenthftm,” Alicia said as she closed her eyes.
“Oh,” Martin said, “and why not?”
That was when we heard Andrew start to cry through the baby monitor.
“Fddnggtm,” Alicia said as she looked at the boys, “ndurrthnlens.”
“She has a point,” Colin said, “you warm the milk, I’ll get Andrew, and we can all play happy families together.”
Alicia and I looked at each other and nodded. “Whthhpnsnsftrttht,” Cathy said as she looked at us.
We both shrugged our shoulders – Alicia’s parents would not be back for some time, and Dad had said he would only come when I called. All in all, we were in the hands of Colin and Martin – and we could not think of a safer pair.