Lucy’s Lost Afternoon
"We should employ someone else, just one afternoon a week, or maybe a whole day, for this sort of thing. We can afford it; things are going all right". This was what Dave Talbot said most weeks, at this time. His wife and business partner, Lucy, didn't agree with him. She thought more about the money they saved by not employing a third person. It was an unwelcome task, delivering the week's payments to the bank, but somebody had to do it. Whoever that somebody was, they weren't earning money while they were doing it. Dave and Lucy Talbot both did the driving, for their small but growing transport firm. They had two taxis and a minibus. Dave did most of the maintenance work, while Lucy was also the accountant, arranged bookings and just about everything else that needed arranging. Just now, at two-thirty on Friday afternoon, the two jobs overlapped for Lucy.
An attractive blue-eyed brunette with a figure that some described as cuddly, she had an outgoing nature and was popular with the male customers. She wasn't afraid to be flirtatious to gain a business advantage, but she knew when to turn it off as well. Above all she wanted to be taken seriously.
To emphasize the professionalism of their business, she always wore the uniform that she had chosen herself when she was out on the firm's business, on occasions like this. It being a warm day though, she had left her jacket in the office and was wearing the rest of the uniform, a crisp white blouse buttoned at collar and cuffs, a black and red striped tie with a knee-length black skirt and black lace-up shoes. The black leather briefcase which she carried held over £2200, already sorted into denominations ready for payment.
Inside the bank, she was relieved to see there wasn't a queue. When there was one, it had delayed her for ages, because it was a sub-branch which only had a staff of one. And that one staff member was a person who didn't impress Lucy. She was there every week, and Lucy had made no attempt to hide her impatience. The girl was such a scatterbrain; she didn't seem to understand that Lucy was a busy woman with a job to do. A person who didn't really have time to come to the bank, never mind be delayed by a cashier's incompetence
Today, there was only one customer inside, a middle-aged woman, who, Lucy knew, worked at the Town Hall in some management capacity. She was usually there at the same time and the same day as Lucy, presumably paying in something collected by the council. She was dressed today in a business suit of mid-grey jacket and skirt, over a white button-down shirt. Lucy, in her own mind, compared herself favorably to this woman, who she considered to be a bit overweight, a bit more overweight than she was. It was a consolation of sorts.
At least it wouldn't take long, Lucy thought, with just one customer in front of her. But at that moment, everything changed. The door burst open and three men strode in. Three men wearing faded blue boiler suits and ski masks. Lucy's stomach turned over in horror, as one of them bashed on the counter with an iron bar, and another one, waving a sawn-off shotgun, shouted "down on your knees, everyone! Hands on your heads!"
Lucy, quickly followed by the woman in the grey suit, obeyed as fast as she could. She thought of saying something, but decided against it. Instead, as she knelt, she noticed that two of the men had ordered the young girl cashier to open the door, to admit them behind the counter. The third man, shotgun in hand, wasn't watching Lucy as she furtively pushed her briefcase round the corner of the counter, hoping it was out of sight. The robbers weren't after her money, after all.
A voice spoke from behind the counter "get the two old bags tied up, and bring them through. The other woman made eye contact with Lucy, and muttered "Cheeky little bastards!" and then "Have you been in anything like this before?" It was then that Lucy noticed her white fiberglass lapel badge, which was engraved "Kay Mead, Senior Cashier"
"No" Lucy began, but suddenly the man was standing over her, pulling silver duct tape from a roll. “Oh, no, there's no need to tie us up, we'll be quiet, won't we?"
"Shut it" he said gruffly, and after tearing a strip from the roll, pressed it across her lips and smoothed it down.
Then as he was pulling more tape from the roll, the woman continued "It'll be all right, they'll just take the money and go. I've been in this situation before, remember”. Not just leaving though, thought Lucy. We're going to be tied up, and how long before we get released?
"I said, shut it" the robber barked, louder. He pulled Lucy's hands roughly from her head, forced them together behind her back and wrapped them tightly with tape. She knew she wouldn't be able to pull them free, but she didn't try, in front of this man. He swiftly gagged the other woman, and then bound her hands behind her back just like Lucy's.
"Get up" he said " go through" Lucy and the other woman exchanged anxious glances. Getting to their feet, from a kneeling position, with hands tied behind them, that wouldn't be easy. "Oh, come on" he said, realizing the problem. Taking the other woman by the shoulders, he lifted her to her feet and ushered her to the open doorway. Then he was back with Lucy, pulling her to her feet and pushing her in front of him. As she went through the door and joined Kay Mead, she noticed the young bank cashier, a busty blonde of about twenty, wearing the bank uniform of a royal blue jacket and skirt. From the named badge on her lapel, Lucy knew that she was Mrs. Penny Falkner. She was opening draws which looked to have cash in them. She was acting scared, looking tearful, fluttering her eyelashes and behaving like a silly little girl, Lucy thought.
"You won't hurt me, will you? I'll do what you tell me. I've never met any real gangsters before" she whined. You're not impressing anyone, Lucy thought, but she didn't see much of what happened, she and Kay were led down a short passage to another door. One of the gang opened it, and Lucy could see that it was a cleaners closet, one whose light wasn't switched on. Kay was pushed inside, with a slap on the bottom which made her turn and glare at the masked man. Lucy was pushed in behind her. Knowing that she'd get a smack too, she didn't bother to side-step it. She knew she would be more annoyed if she didn't get that kind of attention, especially as she had just been referred to as an old bag. In the brief seconds before they were shut in darkness, she noticed the doorknob on the inside. At waist height, that would be handy. She would be able to open it with her hands tied, when they were left. Then the door slammed, and they were unable to see anything. Lucy wondered if Kay was thinking the same as her; that letting themselves out of the cupboard before the gang left would be a very bad idea. The men might turn violent, but at the very least they would be imprisoned a bit more thoroughly. At the moment their feet weren't tied, and Lucy thought she could easily open the door. Unknown to Lucy, Kay was thinking the same. She was thinking about the time when she had been caught up in an armed holdup at the town hall, where she worked, two years earlier. She'd been bound thoroughly with cord, hands and feet fastened together behind her back, uncomfortable and inescapable. They had had to wait quite some time to be found and freed. This seemed easy by comparison.
They stood quietly and impatiently, waiting for the next development. Lucy was thinking about her brief case, with her hard-earned, though insured, money inside it. With luck the gang wouldn't find it. They wouldn't go round the counter, after taking everything from the tills.
It wasn't long before the door was opened, and the pair were surprised to see Penny the cashier being dragged by the arm. Lucy had been right; the girl's behavior hadn't gained her any privileges. She had been taped up too, mouth covered and hands fastened behind her back. " Make room for another one, ladies!" said one of the still masked gang.
Lucy stepped to one side as the cashier was shoved inside. She wanted to keep a mental picture of the inside of their prison. "Count to a hundred before you come looking for us" the jovial robber said as he closed the door. Lucy listened hard, there latch engaged but there was no further sound, no key being turned. There were other sounds though, other doors closing. It occurred to her that a door closing made more noise than one being opened. She was sure she had heard two of them. The robbers would be in a hurry to get away now they had the money, wouldn't they? In fact, they've probably gone now, she thought.
Her fellow prisoners weren't moving, so it was for her to take some decisive action. The story of my life, she thought. She moved slowly in the direction of the door, brushing against one of her fellow captives in the darkness, then she found the wall. It wasn't hard to find the door, and by moving along it, to find the knob. She remembered that it opened outward, so when she grasped and turned it, pushing at the same time, it opened and she was blinking in the unaccustomed light. She stepped into the corridor, keeping her right foot against the door to hold it open. There was no sign of the armed men, so it seemed safe to assume they had left. It was obvious to her that, if the coast was clear, they could all go outside and attract some attention. Raise the alarm, and get themselves set free. But Kay and the cashier weren't following her. Lucy nodded her head in the direction of the next door, that led to the public area at the front of the bank. But Kay wasn't coming. She shook her head, most definitely. The cashier, standing next to her, showed no sign of interest either. Did they want to stay here, tied up in a cupboard, thought Lucy? Well, I don't!
She stepped away, letting the closet door close, feeling slightly guilty as the other two women were plunged back into darkness. But it was their choice, she told herself. What were they afraid of? Anyway, it wouldn't be for long. She walked up to the second door. Could she push it open with her foot? It didn't look like it, there was a chrome handle that looked as if it would push downwards to open. She turned her back to it and felt behind her for the handle. As the handle turned she pushed the door with her shoulder. It seemed strange, having her hands tied behind her back hadn't stopped her from opening two doors.
But as the second door swung back, she froze, realizing she wasn't alone. The gang were still there. She'd been so sure they had gone. Everything happened so fast. They had rolled back their ski masks, but now they were pulling them down, covering their faces again. One of them grabbed her by the arm, his fingers digging in. She decided against struggling.
"See where the other two are" said a voice. One of them disappeared into the corridor, but was soon back.
"Still in there, it’s just her. What do we do?" They had been about to leave, but Lucy had inadvertently caused a change of plan.
"Better go back and tape them a bit more thoroughly, hadn't we?" another one suggested.
"No, it'll take too long". One of them was obviously in charge, the one who was holding Lucy. " Shove a chair under that door handle to jam it. That'll keep them in. They're tied up, remember. And this one, we wrap her up with the tape we've got left". He shook Lucy by the arm and pushed his face in front of hers." Teach her to do what she's told, not to push her luck. Give me the tape!"
Lucy couldn't see the tape being peeled from the roll, but she could hear it, and then it was pressed against her arm and wound round her upper body, above her bust, and then below it, pinning her arms to her sides. As if it was necessary, with my hands tied behind my back, she thought. She could see there was plenty left on the roll, but suddenly the binding stopped and the man tore the tape. "Down on your knees" he said" I've got you, you won't fall". She lowered herself to the floor, one knee first then the other, the man holding her shoulder as she did so. Once she was kneeling and not in danger of falling, he forced her feet together and, passing the tape reel under her calves, began to wrap her lower legs and ankles. As a final touch, he took the end of the tape up to her bound wrists, passed it under them and pulled it tight, then wrapped it round them until it was used up. Now she was face down on the floor, tied so that she couldn't do more than wriggle around, much less get up from the floor. While this was going on she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, one of the gang forcing a chair against the door, it's back wedged under the door handle.
It wasn’t like Lucy to admit she'd got things wrong, and even now she wouldn't have said so, but even she could see she had made things worse. The prisoners had been left with only their hands tied, and only an unlocked door between them and freedom. Now, thanks to her ill-timed bid for freedom, she was bound much more securely than before, and her companions in adversity, if they weren't tied tighter as well, were certainly going to find it harder to get out of the room.
The man who was taping her had finished now, he slid his hand up her skirt at the back and gave her bottom a squeeze, then scrambled to his feet. I'll get you back one day, she thought. But more importantly, she could see that her brief case was still where she had pushed it, in a gloomy corner of the concourse. The men were going out of the door now, laden with their loot. My money's still here, she thought, but how long am I going to have to stay here like this. Movement wasn't easy, she couldn't get any leverage on the tape round her wrists. The tape around her body and arms meant that she was just like a well-wrapped parcel in human form. She could squirm about on the bank floor, but she could see, at close range, how dirty and dusty it was. The tape round her wrists wasn't painfully tight, but it held her securely enough, and it was frustrating and a bit scary, not being able to move at all. She was startled by seeing some nearby movement, but then she realized it was the shadowy figure of someone outside, passing the outer door. It was made of some kind of thick frosted glass, that you couldn't see through, she'd noticed that on the way in. She wondered if any customers were going to come in any time soon. Not too long, she hoped, then they would all be rescued.
But a thought struck her, it wasn't just rescue that was coming. She was going to be found here, face down on the floor, trussed up in a ridiculous and embarrassing position, and it might even be one of her customers who found her. She and Dave had gone to a lot of trouble to promote their business, and they were well known, and, she hoped, respected in the local community. She suddenly felt as if she was going to be discovered doing something guilty. It would be in the paper, all about how Lucy Talbot had been tied up by robbers at the bank. She almost hoped nobody would come through the door. If one of the three of them got loose, and untied the others, it would be so much better. No strangers coming through the door and finding her bound and gagged on the floor at their feet. And then, she heard some noises that raised her hopes. It sounded as if her fellow- prisoners were on the move.
She could hear some banging noises, coming from back inside the bank. She wasn't facing that way, but the noise was getting louder. A clattering as something fell over, then footsteps, definitely footsteps. Then she heard the sound of the door opening, the one that she had pushed through, before she was recaptured by the gang. It had to be Kay and the young cashier. They had freed themselves and now it was her turn. She strained to see them, but before she could turn herself round, Kay was standing next to her, looking down, the cashier right behind her. The pair weren't free after all; they had opened the door the same way that Lucy had. Their mouths were still gagged, and their hands were still taped behind their backs. Kay had obviously put some effort into trying to get free; her grey jacket had slipped off her shoulders and down her arms. Only the fact of her hands being tied behind her had stopped it from falling to the floor. She glanced back at Penny, grunted through the tape and approached the front door. Turning her back to the door, she pulled it open by the vertical handle, and held it while Penny stepped through. Then Penny held the door to allow Kay out, and the pair were out of sight.
Out in the street, thought Lucy, where they would soon be seen and set free. Any minute now they would be back, with policemen and members of the public. They'd all be gawping at her, trussed up on the floor. It was going to be so embarrassing. She just hoped it wasn't going to be anybody who knew her. She could hear some commotion outside, getting closer, and then the door opened, slowly at first, then it was pushed wide.
"I'll go first" said a male voice. Turning her head sideways, she saw a uniformed policeman, followed closely by a young dark haired man in a dark blue suit. Right behind them came Kay and Penny, no longer bound and gagged.
"Here she is" Kay exclaimed. "Let’s get her untied". The police constable stuck his arm out sideways.
"I asked you to wait outside " he ordered, then, as he looked down at her. " Oh, it's you, isn't it? Lucy Osborne, from Barr Street Comprehensive ".
Lucy, blushing furiously suddenly recognized the man who'd been her boyfriend for a few weeks, when she was fifteen. It was definitely time they employed someone else for tasks like this, she thought. "Get me out of this" she tried to say, but it came out as muffled grunts, and he began to grin.
"This is my patch" he said. "Haven't seen you here before". Lucy squirmed in anger. Don't chat me up, get me untied, she wanted to shout. She wasn't going to give them a laugh again by mumbling through the tape. He sensed her thoughts and dropped to his knees at her side.