Business as Usual
Pet's Caff was one of the best known fixtures of the trader's wholesale market. For those who worked there through the night, it provided a place where even at 2 am in the morning you could get a hot meal and a large mug of coffee to see you through the night. Pet herself manned the store front through the night from about eleven pm, with her niece Yvonne doing the cooking, and the store only closed for an hour in the morning at about eight to allow a changeover of staff and a chance to clean up. In fact, she was almost as much a fixture of the market as any of the tradesmen there.
Pet always wore the same outfit to the store - a white chunky sweater, long denim skirt and brown fur boots. Yvonne did not always dress the same, and could be quite fashionable, but always sensible.
On this particular evening, Pet and Yvonne had arrived at about ten pm, and as they always did they spent a few minutes chatting with the staff who manned the shop during the afternoon and early evening. The market life continued on around the front of the building as the previous shift staff left, and Pet and Yvonne got settled down for work.
It was around midnight, and Pet was talking to one of the market traders over the counter.
"So how are the kids, Rob"
"Oh, they're fine Pet - growing faster than I can keep pace with at the moment. Here - let me show you."
"Oh, they're beautiful. How old are they now?"
"The oldest is six, and the younger one four."
"Yes Yvonne, what is it?"
"I need to slip in the back to get some more bacon - can you keep an eye on the cooker for me?"
"Sure love - on you go."
As Yvonne went into the back pantry, Pet turned back to the customer.
"You'd better get going or else you'll be in trouble!"
"All right Pet - I'll see you later."
As he left, a man in a dark suit entered the cafe. He looked at the empty tables, before walking over to the counter.
"Are you Mrs Petula Danvers?"
"Yes I am - how can I help you?"
Market workers passing Pet's Caff over the next few minutes saw that, for some reason, the front door was locked and a sign in the window said "Back in ten minutes." There was nothing unusual in that - Pet and Yvonne often took short breaks when things were quiet - so when the cafe opened a few minutes later the only unusual thing was a replacement sign that said "Apologies for the disruption - business as usual."
The regulars, on entering, noticed two things were slightly different. One was the banging noise coming from somewhere out back. The other was a stranger working where Yvonne normally was. This was another young girl of about Yvonne's age, wearing a black sweater and slacks under an apron, and black Dr Marten boots.
"Hey, Pet, what's going on here?" One of her regulars asked at about 2 am when he popped in for a snack. "There's a lot of racket out there, and where's Yvonne?"
"She had to go home - her mother was taken ill suddenly. This is a friend of hers who offered to step in and help out - you won't tell the council about untrained staff, will you?"
"Of course not, love - you know we all look out for each other. But what's all the noise about?"
"Emergency repairs, apparently - and not only is the problem under my back yard, it needs to be fixed now. Hang on - I'll put the stereo on louder."
"Damn the council - why can these things not wait until we close?"
"And just when do we close?" Pet replied with a half smile as he passed the regular a bacon sandwich.
"Nice job, lass" he shouted to the girl at the cooker, who turned and smiled at him, before looking at Pet.
As the hours passed, Pet continued to serve the customers as they came in, and the new helper did a good job of the various requests for fry-ups, sandwiches and other food and drink. Most people asked where Yvonne was, and told Pet to pass on good wishes to her and her mother. As for the drilling noise, after a while no-one complained - it wasn't the first time repairs had been carried out nearby while the market was working, and it probably wouldn't be the last.
From time to time, the new girl would whisper something in Pet's ear, and she would just look ahead and nod. At about seven o'clock, Rob popped back in for a quick cuppa.
"I heard Yvonne had to go home - give her my love will you?"
"Of course I will Rob - listen, could you do me a favour?"
"Sure, what is it?"
"Things are quiet at the moment, and I want to see how my sister is doing. Will you get the word passed round that I'm going to close now for a couple of hours? The girls will be here at ten, so we should open up after that."
"No problem, Pet - leave it to me. See you later."
As Rob downed his tea and headed out of the door, Pet whispered to herself "I hope so, Rob, I hope so." She locked the door behind him, put the sign to "closed" and turned round.
"All right, I did what you asked - now what?"
"Come with me," the girl said pointing a gun at Pet, "and we'll see how far they've got."
She motioned with the gun for Pet to go first, and the two of them went into the back store. As they went through, Pet thought back to what happened when the man first came in that night...
"Are you Mrs Petula Danvers?"
"Yes I am - how can I help you?"
"Well, Mrs Danvers, you can start by staying very quiet, and doing exactly what I tell you." As he said this, the gentleman produced a small pistol from his pocket and aimed it directly at Pet.
"Oh my god - Yvonne, get out of here now, it?s a robbery!!!"
"Don't be concerned for now about your niece, Mrs Danvers - as you can see, she is quite safe."
Yvonne was pushed through at that point from the pantry, followed by two masked men in boiler suits and brandishing guns.
"Mrs Danvers, will you please close up for a few minutes while we explain what's going to happen? Please, don't try to raise the alarm, or it is this young lady who will suffer the consequences."
Pet went towards the door, looking at Yvonne all the time, and turned the sign to "closed". She also put up a "Back in 10 minutes" sign.
"Very good, Mrs Danvers. Now, sit down there with your niece and I'll tell you what?s going to happen."
The two women sat down at one of the tables, while the two masked men returned to the back pantry.
"My friends and I have plans for the bank that shares a wall with your back yard, and to see those plans come through we need to do some work in your yard. For that reason and that reason only, I'm afraid you have to play a part in our plans. Do as we say, and no permanent harm will come to you."
"What if I say No?" Pet asked.
"Well, we thought you might, which is why your niece here is going to stay with us while we do our work. If you do anything stupid or that might jeopardise our plans, she will die. Is that quite clear?"
Yvonne spoke for the first time. "Aunt Pet, please, don't let them hurt me."
Pet looked at her niece sitting in the chair. It gets cold in the market at night, so she was dressed in a brown checked lumberjack shirt over a grey sweater, jeans and mid-length silver grey boots. Even with those on, she could see her niece visibly shiver in fear.
"All right - what do you want me to do?"
"Business as usual, Mrs Danvers, business as usual. Tell your customers that emergency repair work is going on in the yard, and act as if nothing else has happened."
"But I need Yvonne to work the cooker if I have to do that - and you say she'll be with you."
"Quite right, quite right - I had not forgotten that. Allow me to introduce my niece - will you come in dear."
A young woman dressed in black came out from the pantry.
"She will be your cook for tonight. I'm sure you'll come up with something to explain Yvonne's absence. Speaking of which - please stand up, Yvonne, and come with me."
The man took Yvonne by the hand and let her to the back room. "You'd better open up, Mrs Danvers - your customers will be wondering what?s happening."
Pet looked at the girl. "Do you know your way around a kitchen?"
She nodded. "You keep your customer's curiosity diverted, and I'll attend to the cooking" she said as she put on an apron and went towards the cooker...
As Pet was pushed in the back room, she saw one of the boiler suited men taking to the one in the suit.
"We're through now George - we can start to unload as soon as the safe is opened."
"Well, the first staff should start arriving in about 15 minutes, so you'd better get into position." He turned round as he said that and saw Pet entering, followed by the young girl.
"Ah, Mrs Danvers - thank you for closing up early for us. We wouldn't want your customers to discover what we're up to just yet, would we?"
Pet could see through the open door at the back that a large hole had been made in the wall that was part of the bank building, and the two masked men were entering the bank itself carrying large bags.
"Where's my niece?" she shouted.
"We'll take her to you in a minute. Please, put your hands behind your back."
"Mrs Danvers, do you really think we're going to go to all this trouble, and leave you free to let the authorities know what's going on? Now, hands behind your back, please!"
Pet did as she was asked, and the man she had heard called George handed his niece a length of cord. Crossing Pet's wrists behind her back, the girl quickly lashed them tightly together.
"Right, Uncle George," she said when she had finished, "Now what?"
"Gag her, and then take her to join her niece. I need to get into the bank."
As George went to the bank, his niece took a bandana from her back pocket, rolled it into a band and held it in front of Pet's mouth.
"Open up, or else," she said, and as Pet opened her mouth wide she tied it in as a gag, knotting the scarf at the base of her neck. She then pushed Pet towards the store room in the cafe.
In the bank, the first of the female tellers had arrived, to be grabbed as she came in and forced into the back room. There her hands and feet were bound, and her mouth gagged with the royal blue scarf that was part of their uniform. This happened a number of times as more staff arrived, until the manager arrived and was forced to open the bank safe.
In the back room, Pet was staring silently at her niece, who was at on the floor with her back against the rear wall. Her upper body was encased in ropes which ran above and below her breasts, and her hands were obviously tied behind her back. Her ankles were crossed and tied, as was clear by the visible rope over the grey of her boots, and her legs bound above and below her knees. As with Pet, a bandana had been tied into her mouth as a simple, yet effective gag. She had obviously been struggling. As her blouse was coming undone and her hair was looking dishevelled, but at this point of time she had somehow managed to fall asleep amidst all the noise.
Pet tried to call out as the other girl took a long length of rope from the floor and proceeded to tie her arms tightly to her side.
"mmm - ant!!? Hlp m, hlp m?."
"Clm dn, Yv - jst clm dn, n tr t rlx."
She winced as the rope was passed around her neck and shoulders, and tied tightly at the back to link her wrists to the chest binding.
"Right you - sit down next to your precious little niece over there, and let's get you nice and comfy."
The girl in black pushed Pet over to the wall, and with some difficulty she sat down next to Yvonne.
Taking more rope, the girl bound Pet's legs together over her skirt, then fed it down to her ankles and tied them tightly together, side by side.
"All right, both of you just sit still and this will be over soon." As she said this, the girl stood up and went out of the store room, leaving Pet and Yvonne to look at each other wondering what was going to happen next.
George was just climbing out of the hole in the bank wall. "Nobody move for thirty minutes, or it's curtains for all of you" he called back through as the two masked men made for a van parked outside the yard.
"I've taken care of the two from the cafe, Uncle George."
"That's me girl - you go with the boys and let's get out of here!"
Pet and Yvonne heard the van leaving, and sat still for a while until they were sure that no-one was there watching them from a hiding place. They heard the market clock strike nine, and wondered how they were going to get out of their predicament.
Yvonne stretched her legs out in front of her, and wriggled around to see if she could get any sort of purchase on the ropes holding her. Pet just sat still, crying quietly at the fact that they had not been able to do anything about the siege during the night.
Pet felt Yvonne nudging her in the back, and looking up she saw that her niece had turned so that her back was facing her, and she was trying to indicate with her head that Pet should do the same. Shuffling around on her bottom, as the rope around her legs and skirt prevented her fully stretching out, she managed to get her back around enough for Yvonne to grab hold of her wrists and try to undo the ropes around them. The clock had struck ten before Yvonne had to give up out of sheer exhaustion.
Outside the cafe, Rob and others had noticed that Pet had not returned, and the next shift of staff were wondering why the door was still locked.
"Has anyone gone round the back to see if they're in the yard?" Rob asked.
"We can't get round," one of the market traders answered, "the police have cordoned the road off. Looks like someone's robbed the bank."
"A bank robbery? How did they get in?"
"No idea - but there's no sign of any broken glass or doors at the front?"
"They must have got in through the roof, then - or the back."
Rob suddenly stiffened. "The yard at the back of the caff backs onto the bank. Quickly - someone help me break this door down now!"
Three of the traders came forward, and between them they broke down the front door. Rob ran in.
"Pet? Pet, where are you?"
The sound of muffled screams came from the back, and Rob ran through to find the two women sitting back to back in the store room, just as two policemen came through from the bank to see what the noise was about.
Later that day, Pet and Yvonne were sitting at home, having given their statements to the police and changed from their soiled clothes.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, Yvonne - it tears me up what you went through."
"Don't worry, Auntie - there was nothing you could do except what they said. It's those poor workers at the bank I feel sorrier for - they must have been terrified to walk into the arms of armed robbers like that."
"True, but I think we need to take a break. Do you think the others will be willing to cover for us if we take a holiday?"
"I think so - if you do one thing."
"Make sure we have a man in the place at all times from now on - it may make more of a deterrent if someone tries that again."
Pet nodded, and drank from her mug. A holiday would do them both good - and who knows, they might even meet someone exciting to take their minds off their ordeal.