FAST WORK AT FLINTWICK HALL
The trust which owned Flintwick Hall had found another opportunity to cash in on a tenuous connection to a historical figure. It was the centenary of a visit by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A first floor room had been refurnished to create a facsimile of the great writer's office. In reality he had stayed for three nights as a guest and didn't have an office there, but Flintwick Hall's management were in the entertainment business. The room contained as much appropriate Victoriana as they could lay hands on, but there were some items of real value. Most of these were gold or ivory; there was a hunter watch, a cigarette lighter and numerous ivory figurines. One of the most ostentatious exhibits was a display case containing a full set of Victorian gold sovereigns, sixty five in total, one for each year of her reign. A bookcase contained copies of all of the Sherlock Holmes novels. None of them were first editions or were in any way valuable, but they were part of a moneymaking idea for all that.
Somebody in higher management had decided that the presence of a "real" Victorian sleuth would give the collection some charisma. The original idea was for a member of staff to dress up as Sherlock, but everyone agreed that this lacked originality. The final plan was that someone would pose as one Shirley Holmes, the alleged great granddaughter of Sherlock, and would autograph the second hand books for five pounds an item.
Maggie Berry, who was the only suitable female staff member available for the role, thought it was quite a cheap and tacky way of cashing in on the anniversary, but she was in a minority of one, so far as the decision makers were concerned.
The role required a middle-aged lady who might be taken seriously, seen as an authority figure, they said, and that appealed to Maggie's vanity. So this week she was spending everyday sitting at "Sherlock Holmes" desk, at least when visitors were in the room. She had insisted on having a suit made for the occasion, rather than having to make do with something from a fancy dress outfitter. Her outfit of choice was a loose-fitting cape in a greenish-brown material that looked like tweed but was actually lighter and cooler, with a matching knee-length skirt. With this she wore a crisp white shirt, buttoned at the collar with a black silk bow. The deerstalker in the same tweedy fabric was something she could have done without, but oh well, she thought, Sherlock wore one so she would do likewise. But the assignment didn't involve much walking around so she had spiced up the outfit with a pair of black patent leather stiletto shoes, to boost both her height and her confidence.
By the afternoon of the third day Maggie thought she was having an easy ride. She had chatted with lots of people and she had even signed and sold seventy of the secondhand books. She was beginning to wish the exhibition was going on for longer. Her work at the museum was on a contract basis, and she was paid quite well for her knowledge, but this week she hadn't been called on to use that knowledge. Most of the time she was being bored by punters giving her the benefit of their knowledge about Sherlock Holmes. It wasn't much of a challenge.
All that was about to change. Pete Green, who was in the gents toilet changing into his "security man" uniform, was going to change it. He had been in the day before and made a quick assessment of the staff levels, and he knew that "Shirley Holmes" was in sole charge on this floor. He saw an attractive middle-aged woman, slightly overweight, dark blonde with highlights, wearing red-framed glasses that suggested Edna Everage, she would be easily subdued. She would have to be bound and gagged but that wouldn't take long. He had several years of practical experience in that field. He had done his preliminary check and he knew the service lift was working, and the service door to the trade car park was ajar. Down in the car park, the stolen white van waited, the words "AP SECURITY " in black insulating tape on both sides and the number plates doctored in the same way. The zip ties and the flesh-colored bandages, from a first-aid kit, were in one pocket. The hypodermic needle containing orange juice was in the other. He was proud of his imagination. Now he had to make the phone call.
Half an hour later the public had all left, urged on by the staff. The call had said there was a bomb in the building and nobody was taking chances. For Pete’s plan to work successfully, timing was important, and it required the participation of Shirley Holmes. So having made his bomb scare phone call on his mobile, from the next room, he watched from the doorway as the couple who were paying for their signed book left hastily. When they were out of sight he strode over to the exhibition desk.
I should leave as well, Maggie thought. It occurred to her that maybe she should take some of the small valuable exhibits with her. What if the sovereigns had gone when she came back. As she looked around for something to put them in a uniformed man appeared. A thin faced, dark haired man in his forties in a dark blue uniform, with a peaked cap. That struck her as odd considering that he was indoors.
"Security" he announced. "These valuables must be impounded until we have the all-clear. Help me to collect them. Unlock that cabinet with the coins for starters" He had a laptop case and began to gather up the ivory figures.
Maggie stood up to help, wondering, as she did so, how it was that she didn't know about this man. The management were usually unwilling to spend money on things like that. As she looked closely at the man, it struck her that he wasn't so much in uniform as wearing an assortment of blue clothes. "Well, sorry to delay things, but could you show me some identification please " she adopted her most officious tone.
What followed took her by surprise. "Maybe this will do" he said as he pulled a hypodermic needle from his pocket. "This stuff is used to put cats and dogs down. I don't think it will do you a lot of good either. Better do what I tell you if you don't want to find out. I think I can move a lot faster than you. So unlock that case, there's a good girl. I want your fingerprints on it, not mine"
Maggie stood open-mouthed for a moment, half disbelieving, then a little scared as she realized that, not for the first time, she found herself confronted by an armed criminal. What could she do about it though. She decided to brazen it out, do what he said, pretend to be scared and if possible, run like hell at the first chance. She would do that, wait for the moment. She gave him a disdainful glare. She wasn't used to being called a girl, good or otherwise by somebody ten years her junior, but she didn't want that needle stuck in her. She sullenly opened the display case and removed the contents. He snatched them from her and dropped them into the bag."Now I want to get out of here, there's been a bomb warning in case you missed it. Can I go now? You're going to get away fast I suppose".
"That was me, there's no bomb. You and me are going for a walk though, unless you want a dose of this. Don't want that, do you?"
Maggie didn't want to go anywhere with him but it was better than being injected with something horrible. "Ok, you lead the way" she said, still thinking that an opportunity to get away from him was going to come soon. "Where are we going?" she hardly dared to ask but his reply reassured her.
"Oh, just to the gates and outside"
"All right, why don't I carry the stuff" She reached for the bag. She might get chance to run away, or throw it away from him. They were obviously going down the stairs, maybe she could push him down them. She put on a disarming smile. He wasn’t having any of it. He flourished the needle.
"Sorry, I don't trust you, we'll do it my way. My plan requires you to be tied up. Hands behind your back, please". He wasn't falling for her ploy. As he spoke he pulled some thin black strips from his pocket. Maggie peered closer and realised what they were, and what was in store for her. She couldn't help feeling a secret tingle of excitement. It wasn't the first time she had been tied up by criminals, and she had come through the experiences unscathed. But even so she felt that she should at least put up a show of resistance, even if it was only a verbal protest.
"You're kidding, right. Not really going to tie me up, surely? I said I'd help, I've done everything you told me to do, haven't I?"
"So you have. So you'll let me tie your hands. Shirley Holmes the great crime fighter can handle being tied up now and then, can't she? Or is it going to be the needle?" He had moved behind her and he surprised her by lifting her cape up over her shoulders before crossing her wrists behind her. She felt the thin plastic zip tie being passed round her wrists three times before being pulled very tight.
"These things are a godsend to entrepreneurs like me. No need for knots you see". Immediately another longer tie was being passed round her upper arms, pulling them back. As if that wasn't enough he passed another one round her upper arms and fastened it at the front, below her bust. A final one was used to fasten her bound hands to the belt of her skirt. The thin black strip felt so tight around her arms and body with just the shirt to absorb the pressure. It was going to leave marks on her arms and wrists, she just knew. She couldn't help but be impressed at how quickly she was restrained. It wasn't the first time she had been tied up by a criminal, but none of the others had been so fast."Soon be finished " he said as he pulled the cape back down to hide the ties."I like some quiet while I work ".
What did he mean by that? She was puzzled at first, but then she caught sight of the plaster bandages, which she recognized as being from a first-aid kit. That's going over my mouth unless I can talk him out of it, she thought.
She adopted a pleading tone" Oh, come on. This is silly and you don't need to do it. I'll keep quiet. What can I do to stop you? My hands are tied behind me and you've got that needle. Anyway if you tape my mouth up somebody will see, won't they? They’ll see I’m gagged and they’ll know I’m being kidnapped"
He reacted with exasperation. "I don't want to hear what you think. Look at this". He took the plasters and looking through them, selected a specific one." If we don't get too close, this will pass unnoticed, don't you think?" Maggie looked in amazement at the flesh coloured strip of plaster. In the centre of it, drawn with some sort of permanent marker in red, was a pair of lips in a faint smile. Feminine and very lifelike, she had to admit.
Without waiting for further conversation he stepped closer and pressed the plaster gag down across her mouth, making sure to position the drawn mouth correctly. "There. It's definitely your colour. Suits you perfectly. I love a well-padded lady, they look so good when they're tied up". He looked her in the eye, very intently, for a moment."Can you see very well without your specs?" he asked. She wondered what the safest answer would be. In truth she couldn't see very far without them, but she was afraid he would take them off. He soon decided for himself. "Don't want you falling down steps or anything, do we? Now lets go" he said brusquely, pulling her by the arm. "Service entrance, the staff only lift, you know the way. I'm right behind you".
As they reached the doorway she caught a glimpse of herself in an ornate full length mirror, and realised just how well the cape hid her bound arms. The tape with the painted smile was convincing enough if you didn't look too closely. She was being kidnapped in broad daylight, and nobody would know. And if only she wasn't wearing the ridiculous deerstalker. It was all very well while she was holding court for the visitors, but when she was being led away bound and gagged it looked so silly. As soon as she could, she would shake her head and lose the thing.
The visitors who had been herded out of the hall were milling about in the main car park ,waiting to be readmitted. Several of them later remembered seeing "Shirley Holmes" and a uniformed security guard, getting in a small dark blue van. One of them thought he saw the security man helping the woman into the passenger seat and fastening her seat belt.
Maggie was as helpful as she could be when her captor was getting her seated and belted into the van. She didn't want to lose her footing and finish up sprawling on the floor, unable to get up. She realised it was going to be an uncomfortable ride, strapped in with her arms bound behind her back. After placing his haul in the back of the van and covering it with a dust sheet, he sat in the driving seat and started the engine. "I'm going to let you out somewhere where you can get some fresh air and a bracing walk. Then you can tell everybody what happened, but by then I'll be miles away".
As he drove out of the car park, keeping his speed low to avoid attracting attention, Maggie turned towards the side window. It was as if he read her mind. "Don't try pushing your face against the glass. Nobody will take notice and I'm not stopping whatever happens. I'll let you out soon if you don't make trouble, but if you do, who knows, I might decide you need an injection after all. Understand? "
Maggie looked his way and nodded her head dejectedly. It made sense to obey him. If he kept his word she was going to be set free soon. She hoped he was going to untie her as well, not just leave her bound and gagged somewhere .She had an unwelcome vision of herself stumbling across a ploughed field in the rain, bedraggled and muddy, still with her hands tied and her mouth taped.
She was trying hard to think of a way out of her plight. If only I could talk to him, make him see I'm not a threat ,she thought. I don't care if he gets away with the gold, I want him to let me go. Anything’s worth. A try. "nnngghh" she grunted loudly. Still driving, he glanced. at her. "Mmmmmph" she went "Mmmmmph", her eyes wide.
"Something wrong?" he asked with a faint smile, his eyes back on the road. She could see him looking at her in the rear view mirror. She nodded enthusiastically. "D'you want me to stop and take the tape off?" She nodded again. It's working, she thought, if he takes my gag off I can explain how I won't stop him. At the next lay by, he pulled over and stopped the van. He turned to face her. "It had better be serious if I take the tape off. Not just you saying “Please let me go Mister, I'll keep quiet,” wasting my time. If its anything like that you'll be in big trouble. So far I'm Mr Nice Guy. I could be Mr Bad Guy, dump you in a wood, blindfolded as well as tied. I could take your skirt and cape off and let you walk back in just your blouse and your knickers and tights. I could even give you a spanking for holding me up. Now there's an idea. Imagine yourself over my knee, tied up and getting your bum smacked. How do you like the sound of that?"
Maggie imagined that scene, feeling herself beginning to blush. That wasn't where the conversation was meant to lead. A man fifteen years her junior putting her over his knee. Lifting her skirt and pulling her panties down maybe. No, stop thinking about that, she. told herself. He spoke again, grinning at her embarrassment. "So have you really got something important to tell me or shall I drive on?" She stared at him, wide-eyed. "Drive?" he continued.
Maggie nodded, and stared straight ahead as he pulled away, aware that he was still grinning. Looking out at the passing scenery, she realised that she didn't quite know where they were. How far was he going to take her? She didn't have to wait long to find out. A brown signpost pointed the way to Farringdene Country Park. She had heard of it, but she hadn’t been there. As they passed through the gateway Maggie saw more signs pointing out directions to a cafe, a car park and walks of different lengths. When they were some distance inside he turned off from the tarmac drive and drove across a grassy area to a group of picnic tables. He parked the van and got out leaving the engine ticking over. He opened her door and leaning across her, freed her from the safety belt. “I wish we had more time, you know, I could make today more fun for both of us. Trouble is, by now they’ll know about the robbery. They probably think you did it, but once you turn up they’ll start looking for me” Maggie didn’t agree, she tried to hold her breath. He obviously enjoyed Indian cuisine, his breath smelt of it. “Perhaps I’ll drop in on you again some time”.
"Here's where we part company" he said as he helped her to alight, and helped her to stand upright. Maggie was very aware of his hands on her knees and bottom as he manoeuvred her out, since the recent one-sided conversation, but at first he put an arm round her shoulder and led her to a picnic table with a bench on either side. Removing his arm he gave her bottom a slap and said "May as well sit down". She positioned herself as gracefully as she could on the wooden bench. She looked up at the man expectantly, but to her surprise he turned his back on her, went back to the van without a word, got in and drove away, back up the drive and out of sight. To her surprise she felt deflated. He had been so flippant and even flirtatious, she didn't expect him to drive off without saying anything. Still, he was gone and she, well, she wasn't quite free, not yet. Her kidnapper had gone for good , but she was still in trouble. A damsel in distress, she thought, but no sign of a knight in shining armour. She looked around the country park. She could see the cafe, several hundred yards away across the grass. Two cars were parked in the car park but she couldn't see anybody. Her own picnic table was in the middle of the grassed field, no footpath nearby, and the recent rain had left it muddy. She didn't fancy tottering across there on her heels and slipping over on the way, but she had no choice. She was steeling herself to take the plunge when she heard movement behind her. "Paddy " a female voice shouted frantically. "Come here, Paddy. Bloody dog". Maggie turned towards the commotion just at the moment when the eager golden Labrador reached her and placing muddy paws on her thigh, lunged upwards, trying to lick her face. As she recoiled backwards the deerstalker fell backwards to the ground. She almost followed it but managed to prop her shoulder against the picnic table. As she struggled back to an upright position she turned to face the dog owner, who was shouting again "Paddy! Bad boy!" Her glasses were slipping down her nose as well, she had to tilt her head back to see.
The woman drew closer as the dog, rebuked but still excited, was prancing around the table. "I'm sorry. He just gets so excited, but he won't bite" She was close enough now and caught sight of Maggie's taped mouth for the first time. "Oh my god, what's that? ". She stepped back, looking around nervously as if suspecting an ambush. Oh no, don't. run away, thought Maggie. "Nnnnkkk, nnnnnkkk" she grunted frantically, getting unsteadily to her feet. She nodded her head enthusiastically
The woman looked reassured, strangely enough. "Do you want that taken off?"
Maggie nodded again impatiently. Stupid woman! Why wouldn't I want to be ungagged, she thought. The woman looked round again then came up to her and put her hand up, carefully pushing a fingernail under a corner of the tape. After a moment of hesitation she yanked it off. To Maggie's surprise it wasn't very painful.
After a deep breath or two she spoke. "Can you help me? I'm all tied up under this cape. Have you got a knife or anything? "
"Afraid not" said the woman. "I can untie you though, let me have a look". She lifted the cape at the front.
"No, behind me" said Maggie impatiently . "My hands are tied behind my back. I don't think you'll be able to do anything, he used some sort of plastic straps. Didn't tie any knots."
"Oh" The woman stepped behind her and lifted the cape, inspecting Maggie's bound hands and arms. "Oh my God, look at this. Its ever so tight, it’s you’ll have marks on your wrists, they’re quite red. Its those things that pull tight, but won't pull open again. We need some scissors or something. Pretty well tied up, aren’t you?"
"Yes " said Maggie through gritted teeth " and you can't undo them, can you. Can you help me over to the cafe though, I might. slip on this muddy grass. "
"Yes, come on" said the woman, taking her by the arm and leading her across the grass "and tell me how come you're sitting here all tied up and gagged. I thought it was some kind of stunt. Come on Paddy. "
“I suppose I’m going to be asked about this again and again” said Maggie trying not to sound impatient "I've been robbed and kidnapped, that's what happened. But I'm all right, or I will be once I get untied. I’m grateful, really, its just that I’ve been robbed before and the police just go on and on, same questions in case you remember something else"
"So long as you're all right, that's the main thing. It sounds kind of exciting. I've never been tied up. And it’s happened to you before, you say. Fancy that. Once we get a cup of tea in there you can tell me all about it while we wait for the police."