"Typical British Railways: It's over
five minutes late now," Shirley grumbled.
"Oh cool it, probably just leaves on the line," I replied.
It was odd that Shirley was the most nervous person on the station platform. Howard had much more right to be nervous than she had. Yet her big brother, older by five years, remained cool and calm, the only indication of nerves how he was running his hands through his short red hair, the exact same shade as Shirley's long locks. Yet once the train rounded the corner on approach to the station even the tall, burly young farmer began to look sheepish.
The reason was another redheaded lady waving energetically at him through the open train window. Her name was Miranda Carr, a twenty three year old trainee vet from Toronto, Canada. And in three days' time she and Howard would be walking up the aisle to become husband and wife.
"Hello gorgeous!" Miranda squealed with her bright Canadian accent, practically leaping off the train into Howard's waiting arms.
"You're just in time. There's this wedding in a couple of days you've been invited to," Howard laughed as he drew her in closer.
"Sounds perfect," Miranda smiled, presenting her fiancé with a tender kiss.
She was followed off by a gang of laughing Canadians, many of whom shared her bright red hair. They were her family and close friends, who'd made the long journey across the Atlantic for the ceremony, because they found the notion of a wedding in a small English countryside town to be a rather quaint one.
Miranda's mother Ruby was close behind her, dressed smartly with her hair expertly styled. Her father came next. He was Clive Carr, millionaire owner of an international shipping company. He'd paid for the entire wedding and for his family to be flown over. The prospect of a rich sister in law was most exciting to Shirley, though her family were far from penniless anyway.
It was the first time either Shirley or myself had met Miranda's extended brood. "Ah Shirley, how fantastic to finally meet you," Clive greeted warmly. "If half your brother's stories about you are true then we're in for quite the visit!"
"I bet he hasn't dared telling you the other half!" Shirley giggled.
Clive's gentle brown eyes next fell onto me. "And I suppose this is your partner in crime Marie, or England's answer to Nancy Drew."
"I read those stories to Miranda!" Ruby exclaimed. "I loved the one with the whispering statue."
"Yeah that was a good one, but my favourites 'Clue of the Velvet Mask,'" I answered with enthusiasm.
"Can I help you with your luggage?" asked Shirley, darting forward to grab an unclaimed suitcase.
"It's ok, I got it!" answered another voice.
Within a millisecond of Shirley clasping the handle, another hand encased hers. Shirley glanced at the culprit and immediately started blushing. It was a lad only a year or so older than us, built like an ice hockey player. And he was incredibly cute. Strong jawed, twinkling eyes and immaculately tidy dark hair. His name was Robert, second cousin to Miranda. Even though I was very much pre-occupied with my boyfriend Philip, I still couldn't prevent my heart fluttering a little. But Shirley stood no chance.
"Well, erm, hi!" Shirley blurted in between deep gulps of air.
"Nice to meet you!" Robert beamed at her, answering in his rich Canadian accent.
"I can take this case if you want," Shirley said.
"Now what kinda gentleman would I be if I did that?" Robert smirked. He gently tugged the case out of her grasp before outstretching his hand for her to shake. "You must be the famous Shirley. I can see why you made such a big impression on Miranda. If we get a free hour in the next few days maybe you could give me a personal tour of Carrington!"
"Oh I'm sure I can find something to amuse us!" Shirley answered, before she clasped her hands over her mouth upon realising how suggestive that'd sounded. But Robert merely laughed, offering his arm for her to take. I took the opportunity to catch her eye and wink. She responded by mouthing the words, "Bloody gorgeous," at me. Goodness she made me giggle. It'd been ages since I'd seen my best friend so flustered.
And so we walked across the footbridge as a group, heading for the station exit. Everyone was in good spirits, even as the temperature began to dip. Anticipation throughout the town was also rising. Weddings featuring guests from abroad were a rarity in 1964 Carrington. This was why there had been great interest when it was announced Howard Edgeworth was to marry the Canadian girlfriend he'd met in London studying for his agriculture degree. Miranda was to move to Carrington and begin her vet career here, while Howard continued his work managing the family stables. This was why so many Canadians had come over; to say goodbye to Miranda.
It was another reason why Clive Carr was determined to put on the grandest wedding possible for his daughters send off. Carrington parish church would be packed out with guests, an old fashioned Aston Martin would bear the happy couple away, and the town hall was booked for the reception, already bedecked with flowers of blue, purple and white and containing enough alcohol to sink a ship.
But none of us had any idea the wedding day would become memorable for another reason.
I received my first inclination over what would happen after we'd left the station. Before sidling into one of the many waiting taxis I had a sudden realisation, and slapped my hand against my forehead. "Blast, I said I'd get my dad a new rail timetable. Back in a sec!" With that I turned on my heel and darted back into the ticket office.
The booth was empty, the officer on duty evidently outside for a crafty cigarette. No matter, leaflets containing the new timetable were freely available on the counter. As I helped myself the door leading in from the platform opened, and in walked two men. I could see their reflections in the booth glass, and they looked like trouble. Dressed smartly in black suits and ties, they were large and burly in equal measure. One had blonde hair, the other black, but both had it cut short with a slick side parting. They were speaking in hushed tones, yet I could still hear their conversation almost perfectly.
"So we follow their taxi's to find out where they're staying?"
"No need, we've found out the hotel and venue already. We only need to keep an eye on things for now."
"When's the wedding again?"
"Three days' time. Keep your shirt on will you!"
I froze on the spot like an ice sculpture, as if hoping these men would view me as one. Yet somehow they hadn't noticed me, or perhaps they didn't view me as being important. And so they continued to discuss their sinister plans within earshot, while watching the wedding party bustle into the waiting taxis.
"We'll have to work fast, apparently Osborne is getting impatient."
"He's got real issues with Clive Carr. Sounds like he'll do anything to stop this wedding."
With that they exited the ticket office. But I stood perfectly still, struggling to process what it was I had just heard.
"Wow Marie, don't you just look darling!" Ruby Carr exclaimed.
"Thank you very much!" I answered, happy my dress met with her approval. It was sky blue with a sash tied around my waist in a bow. It had short sleeves and the skirt was pleated with a knee length hem. The attire was completed by white stockings and blue pumps with a two inch heel. I wore white gloves on my hands, and I'd spent ages styling and preparing my shoulder length brown hair until fixed in an immovable beehive.
Ruby, who was wearing an expensive pink skirt suit with a wide matching hat and dark, T-strap high heels, provided a dazzling smile. "Now I'm thinking what a shame it is that we didn't provide you with a bridesmaid dress. You'd have been lovely."
"No worries, I've been waiting for a while to test out this dress. Besides, wouldn't want to steal Shirley's spotlight."
"Speaking of which, where is my soon to be daughter in law?"
We didn't have to wait much longer before we heard three pairs of high heels on the wooden staircase of Shirley's farmhouse. The living room door swung open and in walked the bridesmaids. Two were girls the same age as the bride. Jean was a daughter of two French-Canadians and had been Miranda's childhood friend. She was a tall, slim girl with raven hair and a pale complexion. With her was Audrey, a native Londoner who had been Miranda's housemate during university. She was a small girl with short brunette hair and heavily freckled skin. And following in their wake was Shirley, her long red hair now wavy and loose and her skin flushing red, either from blusher or from embarrassment.
All three girls were a vision in pink in their identical dresses. Sleeveless but with wide shoulder straps, the dresses also came complete with beautiful ribbons around the waist, the skirt also knee length at the hem. They wore pink high heels, tan tights and gloves to complete the outfit, and each held an identical bouquet of pink flowers.
"You three look good enough for the fashion magazines!" cooed Ruby.
"Thanks Mrs Carr," Jean replied, her voice tinted with a slightest trace of a French accent. "Took us forever to force each other into these things."
"Where's my lovely daughter then?"
"Upstairs in Howard's bedroom. She wanted a moment's peace to apply her makeup," replied the posh sounding Audrey.
"Well I think we should shatter it!" Ruby announced, rising to her feet. With that both she, Jean and Audrey exited the room, but Shirley and I remained behind. We waited for their footsteps to subside before I started conversation with the awkward looking bridesmaid.
"Shirley, you look…"
"Don't say a damn word!" Shirley snapped.
I grinned, knowing exactly what was upsetting her. "Well I was actually going to say you look beautiful… But you also look very pink."
Shirley's scowl could have melted steel. She hated the colour pink. "Just be quiet and pass me that mirror!" she snarled. I did as requested, upon which she looked me up and down and said, "Why couldn't we be wearing your dress? You always look stunning."
I felt far from stunning at that moment. I possibly felt even more nervous than the bride. The conversation I had overheard in the station was swimming through my head. I'd spent the past three days looking over my shoulder as the wedding drew nearer, analysing every person in the hotel or involved in the wedding preparation. Nothing had happened as of yet, but I remained uneasy.
Shirley picked up on this (I'd told her everything of course), but she wasn't all that interested. "For goodness sake Marie can't you give the snooping stuff a rest for one day? Those blokes could have been anyone!"
"I know what I heard Shirley," I insisted.
"Look, Clive is a household name in Canada. Those blokes could have been journalists reporting on the wedding or something."
Shirley was beginning to irritate me. Any other time she'd have been at my side, keen to investigate. But over the past few days she'd been completely ignoring me. All her attention was instead lavished on the dark haired Robert as she showed him what Carrington had to offer. "Oh of course, I should have known you'd have something more important to do."
"Yeah, because you still find plenty of time to snoop when you're spending every day with Philip!" Shirley suddenly barked at me, her face almost as pink as her dress.
Silence fell between us, as our recent unease and resentments surfaced. We didn't get time to say anything else because we then heard footsteps on the staircase. Shirley and I pretended to busy ourselves as the doors were flung open. However when we laid eyes on Miranda's dress our jaws fell to the floor.
It was the brightest white possible, with a silk bodice and skirt which swished elegantly about her legs. It left a short train behind her as she walked, though the tips of her white high heels remained visible. The dress had long sleeves made entirely out of lace, and her un-gloved hands clutched the bouquet. Her beautiful face was covered by a silvery veil, which was a shame because it concealed her rouged cheeks and red hair styled into wavy curls.
"You look stunning," Shirley gasped, our recent argument forgotten as I nodded in agreement.
"As do you and thanks for wearing the dress," Miranda smiled, obviously as aware of Shirley's pink aversion as I was.
I gave a sigh. It was really happening. I'd never been to a wedding before, but I'd heard my parents often recall the excitement and drama of one. I felt it now, and it was almost intoxicating. But I had not forgotten about the mysterious men. And when I glanced out the window and saw a darkly dressed figure duck behind the horse stables, I knew what I had to do.
"I just need to pop out for some air!" I remarked to the ladies as they fussed over Miranda's veil.
"Don't be long dear, the cars will be here any minute," Ruby told me as I made my way out of the living room.
A horse whinnied at me as I stepped out into the stable yard. I loved it out at Shirley's stables, where her family continues to breed race horses to this very day. Located on Carrington's outskirts within walking distance of our school, it was surrounded by old oak trees and rich paddocks of lush green grass in which horses and ponies frolicked. Shirley's parents were with Howard at the church; we girls were the only people supposed to be here. I skipped around mucky puddles in my high heels, heading for the stable which I'd seen the figure hiding behind. I wasn't scared because I'd recognised him straight away. In fact, I'd asked him to come out.
Billy Simpson had seen me coming, and sauntered out from behind his hiding place with a lit cigarette in his mouth. He looked me up and down as I approached, before mumbling, "Nice get up Marie."
"Did you find out anything?" I asked, getting straight to the point.
Billy puffed on his cigarette, giving a shake of his bushy jet black hair, his free hand plunged into the pocket of his leather jacket. Tucked under his arm was a newspaper, which he unfurled and handed over to me. "For a girl who wants to be a detective, you should really pay more attention to the news," he said, his fingers on page 17.
I read the page long article, detailing an account of a long legal dispute in Canada between two rival shipping companies, involving an alleged hostile takeover and even accusations of sabotage. The accuser was none other than Clive Carr: The accused a man by name of Frederick Osborne.
"I heard those two men mention someone called Osborne," I gasped. "That proves it!"
"It doesn't prove anything Marie," Billy replied. "Hearsay and gossip doesn't count as hard evidence. And nobody's seen anything of those two men since you did."
My eyes narrowed at him. "You don't believe me?"
"I didn't say that," Billy defended. "You're just asking me to arrest two strangers with no evidence, no idea what they're planning and who we can't find anyway."
"Did you tell PC Merton?"
"Hang on, you're the one dating his son."
"But he'd listen to you more than he'd listen to me."
Billy gave an indignant snort. "Yeah right, like anyone in that police station gives a rats backside what I say."
I saw Billy look to the ground with an expression of frustration. It was hard to believe not long ago this young man had been a rebellious troublemaker, definitely in with the wrong crowd. Yet PC Merton had seen something in Billy, and offered him a way out. He started as an informant, yet when I accidentally blew his cover during an escapade involving the school medical room, some dodgy pills and a lot of rope, he officially became a trainee policeman. But he never seemed to escape his past, and many still treated him with suspicion.
However, I was willing to give him a chance. He just needed some persuasion. I smiled sweetly at him and fluttered my eyelids, knowing full well Billy's reputation as a ladies man. "Come on Billy, would I have come to you if I didn't take your word seriously? I just want to make sure nothing happens to spoil this wedding."
Billy frowned at me, and for a split second I thought he was going to say no. But then he sighed and remarked, "Oh here comes the puppy dog look…fine, I'll see if anyone at the station wants to go on patrol with me round the church."
I showed my appreciated by giving him a brief hug. "Thank you Billy," I spoke over his shoulder.
"Yeah, well maybe this will make up for the whole 'me tying you up,' thing from a few months back," Billy replied. We then heard the sound of tyres scratching against a dirt track, and we peered around the stables to see two old fashioned Aston Martin's adorned with white ribbons coming up the driveway. "Your chariot awaits," Billy muttered, "Have fun Marie!"
"Thanks again," I called after Billy as he walked towards a footpath leading through the woods. But Billy hadn't been walking along it for more than a couple of minutes when he found his path blocked by two men dressed in sharp suits.
As for me, I skipped again around the puddles as I made to greet the chauffeurs. There were four in total, all sharply dressed in top hats and tails. "You're right on time. The bride should be ready to go!" I told them brightly.
"That's great to hear!" said one of the men, a tall man with a red face and blonde hair. Then before I could react he reached out and grabbed my left forearm, and pulled me into his body. "We'd hate for the bride to be underprepared," he sneered as he pressed the barrel of his pistol against my waist.
"I'll get the door! It'll probably just be Marie," Audrey shouted over the sound of heavy knocking. She was partly right; it was indeed me on the doorstep, but not in favourable circumstances. "Oh my God!" Audrey cried with her hands leaping over her mouth, at the sight of me with ropes around my arms and torso, my hands crossed over and bound behind my back, and a strip of cloth pulled between my teeth.
"We're here to see Miranda and Ruby. Are they in?" sneered the tall chauffeur, who had one hand on my shoulder and his pistol in the other.
Audrey was dumbstruck, not sure what to do next. But one of the chauffeurs decided for her by darting forward and clamping his hand over her mouth. Soon all four men forced their way into the house, dragging me and Audrey with them.
"What the hell is this?" Miranda exclaimed as they burst into the living room.
"MARIE!" Shirley exclaimed at the sight of me once again bound and gagged.
"Mmmmm ssrrrryyy!" I mumbled at everyone, embarrassed at how these creeps had forced me to comply with their scheme.
"OK ladies," yelled one of the invaders, a stout balding man, in a Canadian accent. "You do exactly what we say then none of you will be harmed."
"How could you do this?" Miranda exclaimed, her voice trembling. "It's my wedding day!"
"Oh you don't say sweetheart," another goon, also a Canadian, remarked sarcastically as he eyed her wedding dress.
The tall goon plonked me down on the sofa then sat at my side, continuing to menace me with his pistol. "Right here's the drill. We're going to tie you up, Bridesmaids first, then the mother of the bride, than the lady of the day. Anyone who resists risks serious harm to this lovely young lady, Marie isn't it?"
"If you dare hurt her then I swear I'll…" Shirley snapped, stepping forward until one invader grabbed her by the arm.
"Thanks for volunteering," he sneered, a coil of brown rope in his hand. I made eye contact with my best friend, trying to convey to her that hot-headed attitudes were the last thing we needed. She calmed down, yet as her hands were fixed behind her she gave an expression of purest thunder. As soon as her upper arms and body were bound identically to me she joined me on the sofa.
Jean and Audrey were next. Jean stared straight ahead, steely eyed and defiant as the ropes were wound around the bare skin of her upper arms. Audrey couldn't help but whimper as her gloved hands were tied behind her back. Soon they were plonked down on armchairs, and it was Ruby's turn. She gave an indignant tut as the goons approached her fondling more rope. "How could you have the goddam nerve to spoil my daughter's wedding day?" she growled as she took her turn to be tied up.
"Simple, we're being paid a goddam ton of money!" the tall goon beside me exclaimed in an almost jovial voice.
Soon the binding of Ruby was completed, and finally it was the turn of the thoroughly reluctant bride. Miranda took some real persuading to even get to her feet, and she looked utterly shell shocked as she too was bound, the ropes really contrasting with the bright white of her dress. How horrible that this was happening to her on the biggest day of her life. And all I could do was glower at our captors, and work on getting this gag to slip down my face.
Soon Miranda was trussed up, at which the four invaders moved onto the next phase. Two of the men hauled up Audrey and Jean, and steered them in the direction of the door. "Always the bridesmaid's right ladies?" one cackled over the grunts and protests of the two women as they were lead upstairs.
"So was it going to be a nice wedding sweetheart?" the chubby goon asked Miranda. "All white satin and big cakes and honeymoon in the Channel Islands?"
"Shut the hell up!" Shirley growled in response.
With a shake of my head and a twist of my jaw my gag finally slipped down and hung around my neck. Immediately I snarled at the invading chauffeurs, "Why don't you come clean? We all know Osborne is behind this. I bet he's going to hold us hostage until he gets Miranda's father to agree to drop the case against him!"
My outburst brought amused snickers from both men. "My, what an active imagination this one has," the tall man grinned.
"Well the kidnap of innocent women is just the sort of activity that creep is neck deep in," Miranda scoffed in a rare outburst.
"So you're denying his involvement?" I questioned the two crooks.
"All I'm going to deny is your ability to talk!" the tall crook replied as he sauntered over, though not before grabbing a handful of silk napkins from a drawer. I recoiled away and tried kicking him with my free legs, but I barely delayed the napkin stuffed into my mouth before my cleave gag was reaffixed. While he did this, chubby invader stuffed Miranda's mouth with a cloth and cleave gagged her, the cloth pressing her veil against her face. Soon Ruby and Shirley were also sporting some identical cleave gags, though following some choice words from my best friend.
Barely a moment later the other two goons returned to the living room, complete with smirks of self-satisfaction. "We sorted out the two bridesmaids. They won't be in a position to alert the filth for a good long while," one of them reported.
"Good work," chubby chauffeur replied. "Now you make sure these two youngsters are equally immobile?"
"Nnnnnnmmmm!" Shirley and I chorused as these two invaders picked us up by our shoulders and proceeded to half push/half drag us out the room.
"And as for mummy and daughter, we're going to take you on a little trip into the countryside!" the tall ringleader explained to Miranda and Ruby. "And we may go even further if Clive doesn't comply with our demands!"
"Pllllsss dddnnnttt!" Miranda pleaded with wide, desperate eyes; scared at how her day of celebration had become one of terror. I cast one last look at Ruby and Miranda over my shoulder before the door slammed shut, sealing them from view, though I could still hear their frantic squeals from behind it.
The invaders swiftly found the door to the basement located underneath the staircase. I was pushed down first, my heels echoing off the stone steps as I descended into the darkened, cold atmosphere of the basement. Shirley followed behind me with the two blokes, who flicked on the light switch and analysed their surroundings. When they saw a wooden support beam the one holding me said, "Looks like the perfect place to keep you munchkins outta the way!"
And so we were sat down against this support beam, Shirley on my left, the corner digging sharply into the small of my back. The invaders withdrew more cord, crossed our ankles over and proceeded to bind them. They even wrapped lengths of rope underneath our shoe soles to keep our heels on our feet. Not that this mattered much. As the men took one last length of rope each, affixed it to those secured around our upper bodies, then wound them around the beam, it meant neither Shirley nor I would be getting up from our sitting position.
Their work done, the two goons made their way back upstairs. "Happy wrigglin' munchkins," one guffawed, while the other blew us a kiss. All we could do in reply was squirm as they shut us inside.
Silently fuming at how I'd been unable to avert our predicament, I grunted angrily and shuffled on the spot. In doing so I bashed against Shirley's shoulder as she wriggled at my side. We made eye contact, using them to express our frustration. We then heard the sound of scuffed footsteps, muffled shrieks and loud thumps, and the front door opening. We looked up at the ceiling as we tried to figure out what was going on. Shirley and I looked again at each other, at which I grunted at her, "Lllllttsss gggttt tttt ffff hhrrrr!"
And so we struggled. I stared at my bright blue heels as they jiggled up and down, the material of my white stockings rubbing against the rope. I tugged and tugged and on the rope anchoring me against the pillar. Shirley tugged even more vehemently than I, her silk bridesmaid dress rustling against the stone floor. Her red tresses shook all about as she tilted her head from side to side, trying to dislodge her gag. I was a lot more methodical in my struggles, twisting my bound wrists around and feeling for loose knots with my gloved fingertips.
But I felt no slack, and I sighed in frustration. The prior warning I'd received to all this meant nothing. Now there was no telling what danger Miranda and Ruby were in. But what could Shirley and I do, except rest against this pillar and wait for rescue?
It was then I felt a stray nail protruding from the wood, jutting against my back. But when I realised it wasn't too far from my hands I had an idea. I started rubbing the cords against it until I finally had it hooked around a stray knot. Shirley was oblivious to my work, instead bouncing around violently as she tried forcing her way free. But fortune was on my side, and I wormed the nail in between the cinched cords. A couple of tugs on my part and the knot gave way. Within seconds my hands jerked around to the front, completely free.
"Wwwwlll dddnnn mmmmrrrrr!" Shirley exclaimed with wide eyes as I pulled my torso ropes over my head, before proceeding to untie my ankles. Then, after lifting my gag out my mouth, I proceeded to untie Shirley.
"Of all the times this has happened to us, that was the least enjoyable," Shirley gasped as she yanked her gag away, while I focused on untying her feet.
"We've got to tell Philip's dad!" I exclaimed as I got to my feet, rubbing my aching wrists as I went. "You phone the police station. I'll go find out what's happened to the others." Shirley nodded, and together we crept up the stairs. We heard nothing even when I pressed my ear to the door. Confident we weren't walking back into danger, we pushed it open. The entire farmhouse was deathly silent. It seemed that the invaders had gone, taking Miranda and Ruby with them.
Shirley immediately made for her phone, while I charged upstairs. It didn't take me long to find the bridesmaids, I only needed to follow the grunts. They led me into the master bedroom, and I was greeted by the sight of Audrey and Jean hogtied on the bed. Their hands connected to their feet by lengths of rope, the pink of their bridesmaid dresses mixing with the purple of the bed sheets. Jean's long dark hair was sprawled over the bed from where she lay on her side, while brunette Audrey had left indentations in the duvet from where she'd been bouncing up and down. They mewled at me through their own cleave gags as I darted over to release them.
I'd only just managed to free Jean's hands when I heard a shriek of, "MARIE!"
My heart leapt to my mouth, and without a second's pause I tore back down the stairs. I expected to see Shirley in the clutches of tall and chubby. But I got an even greater surprise. Instead, she was flanked on either side by the two men I'd seen at the rail station three days ago. They were even wearing the same suits.
"What have you done to Miranda and Ruby you creeps?" I screeched at them angrily.
But then a hand grabbed me gently on the arm, and I whirled around to see Billy stood behind me. "It's ok Marie. They're on our side! Their men are rescuing Miranda and Ruby right now!"
"So what are two officers from Interpol skulking around Carrington for?" PC Merton remarked as his fellow constables led the four invading chauffeurs into a police van.
"That information is highly classified," said the blonde haired man, whose name was known to me now as Officer Stamper.
"It has something to do with Frederick Osborne, doesn't it?" I blurted.
The dark haired man, now known as Officer Button, frowned at me. "I can see you like stirring things up miss."
"You have no idea," sighed an exasperated PC Merton.
It later transpired that PC Merton had known about Interpol's involvement from the moment Stamper and Button had arrived, but had been under strict orders not to give away their identities. The reason was that, during an investigation of an international smuggling racket, they had uncovered a plot to force Clive Carr out of business, which involved the kidnap of his wife and daughter for ransom, here in Carrington under a different country's jurisdiction.
But Interpol had acted fast, sending Officers Stamper and Button to monitor the situation. They'd been watching us get ready for the wedding the whole time. Only Billy had been made aware of their presence when he all but walked into them. But they were ideally placed to watch the drama unfold as I was captured and hauled inside. Then about fifteen minutes later the men re-emerged hauling Miranda and Ruby with them. But the kidnappers hadn't even made it a quarter of a mile before they hit the police blockade and were surrounded by officers. Both mother and bride were rescued unharmed.
They'd since been reunited with both Clive and Howard, and they were sat side by side on the sofa clutching each other tightly. I'd never seen Shirley's big brother look so flustered; the thought of his fiancé's ordeal had truly unnerved him. Obviously the wedding had been cancelled, but we were all safe, which was the most important thing.
"Just promise me you'll send Osborne down for this," Clive growled, his face flushing red with anger following his family's ordeal.
"We'll do our best, but we have little concrete evidence linking him to all this," remarked Stamper grimly. "Our best bet looks like striking a deal with one of those underlings in the van outside. But I strongly suspect he'll give up in your court case, and he shouldn't be giving you much more trouble."
Howard reacted to the news by giving Miranda a tender kiss on the cheek, and she smiled happily at him. He then looked around the room before asking, "Where's Shirley?"
I smirked as I got to my feet, announcing I'd go find her. I went outside into the brisk, autumnal evening, the pink sun setting over the horse paddocks. Shirley was sitting on a wooden fence, not caring how mucky her bridesmaid dress was getting, and beside her sat Robert, wearing an expensive DJ and bowtie. Shirley was giggling madly at a joke he'd just told as I approached.
"Your brother's wondering where you are," I told her as I leant on the fence beside her.
Shirley beamed at me, our earlier argument forgotten. "I'll be a second. Just telling Robert about the one time you tried horse riding."
"Don't remind me," I grunted. It had taken me weeks to get rid of that bruise to the forehead.
Robert leant forward so he could see us both. "You two make quite the team," he remarked to us. "God help the men who come between you. You'll definitely have to come over to Canada sometime and see our apartment on Lake Ontario."
"I'd love to come one day," Shirley smiled at him, feeding her arm through his and pulling him closer.
"And travel to Canada to see Robert she did!" said Grandma Marie, finishing her story. "Although it took her four decades, two divorces and a friends reunited website to manage it."
"Tsk tsk, such cheek Marie. Everything all worked out in the end," replied Shirley, a smile on her wrinkled face with her hair now cut short and dyed red with blonde highlights.
Grandma Marie straightened herself in her seat, her hands clasping the sides of her laptop on which Shirley's image was displayed. I was stood over her right hand shoulder, and hovering over her left was Harriet, who like me had listened to their story with great interest. The boisterous redhead crossed her arms, exhaled in an, 'I should have known,' manner, and then said, "I'm beginning to think Carrington resides in some sort of Bermuda Triangle of bondage. I can't believe, even at my grandparents wedding, that this sort of stuff was happening."
"Well not at the wedding proper," corrected Marie. "That was put back a couple of months and a lovely day was had by all."
"What I can't believe is some four decades later Marie's granddaughter and my great niece are following in our footsteps," said Shirley, referring of course to Harriet and myself, "and with Billy Simpson's great niece and Hermione Starling's granddaughter to boot. What goes around comes around indeed. Oh, and Sara, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your adventures on your blog. Keep it up girl; you're doing Carrington and your grandmother proud."
"Thanks Shirley," I replied. "What's the weather like in Toronto?"
"Bloody freezing," Shirley answered, twisting the webcam around so we could see the snowflakes battering her window. "How about in my dear hometown?"
"Pretty damp, but we're hoping it brightens up for our expedition on Thursday," I said.
Shirley's eyes shone with interest. "Ooh an expedition! Where to?"
"Sara, Caroline and I are off to a university open day!" Marie answered. "It's going to be a good old fashioned girl's day out!"
"I'll bet, but you sure the university will be able to cope with three established and prolific snoops turning up at the same time?" Shirley remarked cheekily.
"Don't worry Aunt Shirley. Me and the girls have already taken bets on how many hours it'll take for the three of them to end up in some kind of trouble," Harriet added, playfully ruffling my brown hair.
Batting her hand away I replied, "Be sensible Harriet. What could possibly happen at a bog standard university open day?"