You experience a range of emotions when on
a snoop. Sometimes it's exhilaration, sometimes fear, sometimes frustration.
And occasionally you experience utter, tedious boredom. As I was experiencing
at 11:26pm on a Thursday evening, sitting underneath the desk in an office of a
Carrington Working Men's Club.
Unusually for my adventures, I was stuck under here through choice. During evening service I'd snuck through a fire exit, and somehow avoided being noticed by half-drunk men with an average age of sixty five as I sidled into the office. I'd taken up position under here and had been waiting a good couple of hours for the sound of raucous, drunken laughter to disappear as the bar clients filtered into the night.
I jiggled my legs in frustration, at least dressed comfortably in jeans, a blue hoodie and my newest pair of red coloured converse shoes which reached above my ankles. I'd clipped back my shoulder length brown hair to keep it off my face, making me realise how long it had been since I'd had it cut. I gave a bored sigh and peeped through a gap in the desk, waiting for the lights in the main bar to be turned off. I heard the staff bid each other good night as the building was completely shrouded in darkness. I gave a relieved sigh and crawled out from my hiding place.
Using my phone as a makeshift torch I exited the office and walked through the tables with overturned chairs resting on them. The place smelt stale with the ancient tang of cigarettes from the days before the smoking ban. The peeling wallpaper was stained yellow and the carpet was a dull red and dotted with stain marks. I took my time, knowing that the fire exit wasn't alarmed and would be open due to the stick of chewing gum I'd wedged in it. I had plenty of time to find some evidence of misdeeds.
I was on my own. Rachel, Abigail, Harriet and Felicity were all otherwise preoccupied. This had been a spur of the moment decision following a conversation with my family over the breakfast table only this morning.
"What do you mean Damien Green has come back to Carrington?" my mum had asked my dad in a voice somewhere between surprise and disgust.
"James saw him at the Station Road club on Tuesday night during the football," my dad informed her, not looking up from his copy of The Guardian with a steaming mug of coffee in his hand.
With an insistent stare my mum added, "And you are keeping track of his movements aren't you?"
"Caroline you know I can't. He's a free man now and he hasn't re-offended since he got out."
My mum glared at him, not wanting to let this drop. Her shoulder length brown hair, the same shade as mine and my twin brothers, fell untidily and uncombed down the sides of her face. She was still wearing her purple dressing gown over matching pyjamas, not needing to get dressed as she had a day at home ahead stringently rewriting her next crime thriller. She, like me, had spent much of her youth as a rookie girl detective, and it was stories from her and my grandma which set me on the sleuthing path. Even so, it took me a while to remember exactly where I had heard the name Damien Green before.
"Wasn't he the guy you put away in the case of the purloined paintings?" I asked through a mouth of half eaten toast, sitting opposite my dad at our kitchen table.
Mum answered my question without even looking at me. "That creepy twat had me tied to a chair in that damn club he always hung around in, and threatened to throw me into the river still bound to it, because I discovered he'd stolen four paintings worth £10k from a local gallery."
"And he was let out of prison four years ago following good behaviour," dad told her.
My twin brother Chris was also at the table, reading the sports section of the paper and trying to block out our conversation. But eventually he couldn't help himself. "You know most normal families have issues with people who act smug over their loft conversions, or neighbours who grow their hedgerows too high. Why is it only our family that makes enemies out of ex-convicts and psychotic madmen?"
My dad closed the paper with a resigned sigh, allowing me to see the blue tie he wore with his dark suit, as he prepared for another day as Carrington's Detective Inspector. Running his hand through his greying hair he said, "Look, I'm not exactly thrilled either Caroline, but the law's the law. I'm surprised that he returned at all, but I can't simply ban him from Carrington."
"But you must suspect that he's up to something?" my mum insisted. "Why else would he come back, and to the very club where he was stashing those paintings?"
After I took a swig of my own coffee I suggested, "Why don't I tell Felicity and we can investigate him?"
"NO!" my parents both chorused.
Their answer surprised me. They were usually very supportive of my fledgling detective career and didn't usually show fierce opposition to such a suggestion. "Why not? We could just keep an eye on him?" I ventured.
"Damien Green may not be committing crimes anymore, but he remains a thoroughly unpleasant man," dad told me. "If he finds out you're spying on him he'll go out of his way to make things difficult. He'd probably sell his story to the press, and given their recent surge of interest in you that won't be a good thing."
"But what if he is up to something?" I objected.
For the first time in the conversation my mum looked at me and smiled. "Your dad is right Sara. It's best to leave him alone. I'm probably just being paranoid."
But I knew if there was one thing my mum wasn't, it was paranoid. When something was troubling her, you can bet good money something was really wrong. And that was what convinced me to go for an evening snoop to find out if her fears were justified.
Now however I was beginning to agree with my parent's initial analysis. There wasn't anything going on. I checked everywhere, behind the bar, in the offices, the cloakrooms. Everything save the storeroom where twenty five years ago mum uncovered the stolen paintings. There was no sign that any misdeeds were underway. I cursed myself for wasting my time, and decided to make for the fire exit.
Of course, it was at that point that I heard the front door being unlocked.
As laughing and excitable voices filtered into the bar I realised with a jolt in the pit of my stomach that I had seconds to hide. With a burst of agility I vaulted over the bar and ducked underneath a gap between two fridges. I tucked my legs right up to my chin as the doors to the room were opened and the lights turned on.
"Ah it even smells just like it used to!" a harsh, deep voice announced as he walked in, accompanied by at least four pairs of footsteps.
"Nothing like the old haunts eh Damien?" another voice sounded. "So much better than those dingy bars on the high street which all them kids hang about in."
"Too right Terry, too bleedin' right," said the voice of Damien Green. "And perfect for a bit of old fashioned wheeler dealing!"
I tried to control my excited breathing as the criminal I'd been told stories about as a young girl paced only feet away from my hiding place. I couldn't see him or any of the others but could tell from the tone of their conversation that they meant business. Moving as fast as I dared I activated my phones record function and set it off, so I could replay their words for dad to hear later.
"What time is Bob coming with the merchandise?"
"Fifteen minutes, so pull up a chair and get some rest. Unloading two tonnes worth of cigarettes fresh from across the channel will tucker any man out."
I next heard Damien's voice as he remarked, "Can't believe how much tax has been added on a packet of cigs since I got out. No wonder consumers are tripping over themselves to buy our cut priced stock. And if we establish good old dependable Carrington as our new drop off point we can expand our enterprise further."
So mums hunch was right. Damien was involved in a smuggling ring and was looking to expand into Carrington. I was so caught up in their conversation that I forgot for a moment how precarious my situation was. And I was reminded of this when I heard frantic footsteps followed by a exclamation of, "Lads we'd best search the building. Look what I found."
"Yeah that's a real nice stick of pre-chewed gum you got there matey!" Damien guffawed, with additional laughter coming from his cronies.
"Don't laugh Damien, this was being used to prevent the Fire Exit from locking shut!" the voice explained. "I think we've got a snoop."
The laughter stopped instantly, before Damien took control of the situation. "Spread out and find them! We can't allow our guest to hide away without a proper introduction."
I could hear them prowling throughout the room, spreading out as they searched for the intruder. I tried regulating my frantic breaths with my heart crashing against my chest. I dared not move even to sidle my feet closer into my body. It wouldn't make much difference. I knew that if they checked around the bar I'd be spotted instantly.
"Out you come wherever you are!" I heard Damien guffaw, though his voice was coming from across the room. "I'll even buy you a drink."
But while Damien was far away I could still hear footsteps coming approaching the bar until they were right beside it. I clutched my phone tightly to my chest, knowing it would only be a matter of time. I spring-loaded my legs in preparation to strike out at whoever found me, knowing that it might give me my only opportunity to escape. I waited in my dark hiding place as the footsteps drew closer, and closer…
But I hadn't been found. No menacing face had appeared and no rough hand had yanked me into the open. My fear transformed into confusion as the footsteps darted over to where the triumphant cry had originated from within the storeroom. But when I heard scuffed footsteps and angry grunts I realised I had not been the only one to come here on a midnight snoop.
'Dammit Vicky' I thought initially, convinced that my freckle faced detective rival could be the only person who'd engage in such a pursuit. Oh boy, how wrong was I?
I listened intently at the sound of a bucking intruder being forcibly dragged into the room, the men shouting instructions as they attempted to keep them under control. Eventually the footsteps stopped just in front of the bar, as Damien came over to inspect them. "I did wonder if you were going to come back for round two," he sneered.
Then I had to stifle a gasp as the last voice I ever expected replied, "You know me Damien, always making a nuisance of myself."
What the hell?
While I sat in disbelief, Damien couldn't have sounded happier. "Well well well, Caroline Merton, still as troublesome as you were aged eighteen," he chuckled over the sound of a chair being dragged over the carpeted floor.
"It's Caroline Philips now!" mum snarled defiantly.
Damien recognised the surname, but it took him a moment to realise where from. "Oh wasn't he that young copper who knocked this clubs front door down to rescue you? And you ended up marrying him? Talk about clichéd."
"He became Detective Inspector Philips, and he's been keeping track on all your movements since you returned."
"Nice try Caroline, but we'd have noticed if the filth were on our tail. Now if you'd be so kind as to cross your hands over in front of you?"
When I heard her give an angry tut, followed by the soft thump of rope being dropped on a carpeted floor, I hazarded a solid guess as to what was happening. Now I really had to take the initiative. Covering the illuminated screen of my phone with the sleeves of my hoodie I began typing the following message to my dad. "Damien Green smuggling cigarettes at working men's club. Has mum prisoner. Come with back up!" I had to supress a frustrated huff when I saw, of all the moments, my phone had little reception. I tried sending the message but it instantly bounced back.
"Do we really have to go through this again?" mum grumbled.
"Not if you'd kept your nose outta my business," Damien retorted. "And I'm not having you ruin another of my schemes."
"Oh you do have a scheme then? I didn't hear much from my hiding place."
"Don't treat me like an idiot Caroline."
"You're the one tying me up. I'll treat you however which way I feel."
"Not for much longer you won't. Clive, be a mate and fetch me a glass of whisky would you, I want to savour this moment."
My heart missed several beats. Hearing heavy footsteps walking around the bar I knew I had seconds. I pressed send again, hoping this time the message would make it, then quickly hid my phone behind a box of wine glasses. I looked up just as a plump man with spectacles and balding red hair walked around the bar to fetch his boss a drink. But he gave a double take when he glanced under the counter and saw an eighteen year old girl hunched underneath. "What the hell…" was all he had a chance to utter before I kicked him in the shin.
His exhalation of pain was my signal to scurry out of my hiding place and leg it. I jumped and swung my legs over the countertop as I heard exclamations of surprise from all around. I focused my gaze on the door leading to the fire escape, knowing as I bounded towards it that it held my best chance of escape. But I'd only just grasped the handle when a pair of strong hands grabbed my right upper arm. When someone else took hold of my left elbow I was hauled back.
"Where did you come from?" one of the men holding me exclaimed over my frustrated grunts, as I did my best to wrench my limbs free from their grip, lashing out with my feet trying to kick them. But they kept hold of me easily, half pulling and half dragging me to the rooms centre.
I was spun around and for the first time saw the face of Damien Green. He was a lot smaller than I'd imagined, only an inch or so taller than me. Nevertheless he looked imposing with his head devoid of any hair and tattoos visible on his neck and arms. He wore tattered jeans and a blue and white polo top. He shot me a sinister smile revealing a row of gold teeth replacing his front incisors, presumably after losing his original teeth in a bar room brawl.
Then I cast my eyes to my mum, sitting on a chair with her hands crossed over and bound in front of her with brown coloured rope. The long ends tumbled to the floor from the point where her bonds were cinched. She wore a dark roll neck sweater, dark blue jeans and black plimsolls. Her brown hair had been clipped back like mine, and she was staring directly at me with a strange look on her face. The sort of look someone gives when they are surprised though they know they probably shouldn't have been.
"What are you doing here Sara?" she asked me.
"Same thing as you by the looks of it," I retorted, giving another defiant wriggle of my shoulders.
"I told you not to get involved!"
"What, so you can then nosy round instead?"
Damien listened to our snappy conversation with great interest, beginning to realise why we both looked so similar. "Oho the plot thickens," he exclaimed in realisation. "Like mother like daughter! Do you go about Carrington fighting crime like Batman and Robin?"
"We're not partners!" mum and I chorused vehemently.
"Damien this is serious. This lass must have heard everything!" the man named Clive exclaimed.
Stalling for time I growled, "Yeah, smuggling cigarettes is a bit old school isn't it? Don't you know all the cool kids are into drug smuggling these days?"
Damien simply laughed at me. "Oh she's a right firecracker ain't she lads, just like her mum! Best tie her up before she causes us any more problems!"
And that's exactly what happened next. My hands were crossed over in front of me before another long length of cord was produced and coiled about my wrists, mercifully over the sleeves of my hoodie. Again as the knots were cinched two long trails of cord were left over and fell to the floor, dangling in front of my legs. I suspected they weren't just being wasteful.
These suspicions were confirmed as I was bustled over to the bar and made to sit with my back pressed against it. Mum was likewise hauled to her feet before plonked on my left hand side. Then we were instructed to tuck our knees through the gap in our bound arms and then lift our feet through. This meant our hands were trapped underneath our legs so we could only sit with our knees pointing to the ceiling in a V-shape.
Then the loose ends from our wrist bonds were used to bind our legs together above our knees. As a result both sets of limbs were bound as one, and when the crooks were finished we couldn't separate our wrists from the underside of our legs. Then to complete our helplessness more rope was used to bind our ankles together, causing the cuffs of my jeans to flay out over my converse trainers.
Mum and I sat in silence while our bonds were tightened. We were both experienced members of the 'tied up and kidnapped' club, so there was nothing these creeps were doing that we hadn't experienced before. I glanced at her at the precise moment she glanced at me, and I could tell she too was experiencing frustration more than fear. Not that we weren't worried about what Damien might do to us. My concerns weren't alleviated by how I remained unsure whether my message for help had actually been sent, or how the pocketknife I normally saved for rope cutting was stashed in my back pocket and, given how my hands were bound, well out of reach.
Damien couldn't stop grinning at us with his glittering teeth as he remarked, "Isn't it nice when mothers and daughters share bonding experiences with each other?"
"Classic," I grunted at him.
With some experimental twists against the ropes my mum remarked, "The years keep rolling on, and yet you lot still keep on tying us detectives up. Some things never change."
"Well this time the conclusion will be different," Damien sneered as Clive grabbed a handful of rags and tea towels from behind the bar. "Once the shipment has been delivered I'll be sure to finish the job I should have completed years ago."
"Yeah you have any idea how many crooks have said stuff like that to me beffffrrrnnnggg?" I began before out of nowhere Clive stuffed a rag into my mouth. It tasted foul, a mixture of beer suds and cleaning liquid. But before I could spit it out another goon pulled a damp tea towel between my teeth, pulled the ends around my head and knotted it tightly.
"Ggggddd dddd wwwwnnn hhvvvv ttttt bbbb gggggdddd?" mum protested as she was subjected to a similar procedure, her nostrils flaring as Damien's lackey forced her to bite into the fabric.
While this was going on bright lights suddenly shone through gaps in the drawn curtains. My insides fluttered as I hoped they were coming from police cars. But these hopes were quashed when a goon looked outside and announced, "The goods have arrived."
Bouncing about the room like a child on Christmas Eve Damien announced, "Well hop to it lads. The sooner we get that stuff loaded the sooner we can stuff our wallets with cash until they explode. And the sooner we can teach Mummy and Jr. here a lesson in not invading the privacy of others."
"Nnnn nnntttt ssss!" we chorused as one by one the goons filtered outside into the car park. Soon Damien was the only one left, and he grinned manically at us before giving us a cheery wave. "I'd ask you to help, but you seem tied up with other things."
"Nnnnn ggggdddd!" I groaned, rolling my eyes as he used that gem, after which he and his sparkling teeth ran outside to help his mates.
And so we were left alone in the dingy barroom sat up against the counter with voices and lights filtering through the curtains. I looked at my mum and she looked at me. Then she grunted through her gag, "llllttttsss ggggtttt tttt ffff hhrrrrr!"
So we set about trying to get out of there. We bashed shoulders as we struggled, rocking about on the spot and crashing our backs against the bar. We tried stretching our legs but the way they were bound prevented us. I twisted my hands so much that it made the rope rub against my jeans. Despite our wriggles nothing came loose. Obviously Damien's men hadn't got rusty in their knot tying abilities over the past twenty five years.
"Nnnnnyyyy lllkkkkk?" mum asked me, as her shoulders alternated up and down while she struggled.
I shook my head after I stamped the floor irritably. "Nnnnnn. Hhhhhwww bbbttt yyyynnnn?"
"Nnnnttt nnnn ddddmmm ttthhhnnn!" my mum replied, sighing through the rag in between her teeth.
I decided to try a different tactic. I wriggled my jaw up and down and felt the tea towel slipping away. Spurred on I gave my mouth the full work out, pushing against the wadding with my tongue. After a few minutes of jiggling the tea towel slipped down my chin, and I gleefully spat out that dirty rag.
"Hold still mum. I performed this trick on Rachel when those corrupt florists had us trapped in their greenhouse," I explained, before I leant in and clenched my mums cleave gag between my teeth. It took a couple of tugs but soon I got it to slip down.
The moment her rag was spat out mum said, "Great, now you can tell me what the hell you were thinking?"
"What the hell were you thinking?" I hissed in reply. "This morning you were all, 'no Sara it's too dangerous don't go to the Club.' And then you go swanning in without telling me."
"Damien Green is my responsibility, not yours."
"Says me. I'm the one he has a history with, and I'm the one with the best chance of bringing him down."
Watching her plimsoll clad feet as they jiggled against her bonds I retorted, "Yeah you've done a cracking job so far."
"Oho look who's talking," mum responded with an indignant chuckle. "When I was your age I'd already perfected escape from several types of knots and learnt to unpick handcuffs."
"Doing you any good over there?"
"I'm working on it. But my point is that you need to work on your escape techniques. I bet you've even forgotten your pocket knife again."
"Actually it's in my back pocket," I grunted. I could feel it pressing against my body from where I was sat against the counter.
"Well fat lot of good it's doing there," mum scolded.
"Well given 99.9% of the time my hands are tied behind my back I thought chances are it'd be pretty accessible there. But hey, just my luck that the one time I have to get tied up with my predecessor is the one time they bind my hands to my blinking thighs!" I vented, all my frustration over this situation being ejected in one outburst.
Silence fell as we both stared into each other's green eyes. Then my mum's lips curled upwards into a smile. I smirked back. Then she started to snicker, and I responded with a giggle. We started laughing as the sheer absurdity of our situation hit home, just managing to keep it under control. "God look at us. Held prisoner by a gang of dangerous crooks and all we do is compare stat sheets," mum tittered. "You know if your grandmother saw us now she'd be laughing her head off."
After the laughter subsided I tilted my knees until they were resting against mums legs, as I tried to help her get free. But the way my hands had been crossed and tied underneath meant only my right hand was of any use, and even that could reach only a limited area. "Keep at it mum, we've both got out of worse situations than this."
Flexing her elbows and knees mum replied, "Oh I know, it's just been a while since I was in a worse situation."
I looked at her face. She bit into her lip as she concentrated, her green eyes focused intently on her bonds. She looked like she was almost revelling in overcoming this situation she was now in. "You really love this girl detective stuff don't you?" I said.
"I always loved it Sara, and I always will do," she replied without hesitation. "The investigation, the snooping, and when you put a dangerous criminal behind bars you feel like you've really made a difference. I guess I'm a little envious of you having it all in front of you."
Her comment surprised me. Never would I have guessed that my mum would have been envious of me in any way. Which is why I asked, "If you love it so much why did you ever give it up? What happened?"
Mum stared at me and gave an affectionate smile. "I became pregnant with twins is what happened."
My mum had only been married to my dad for a matter of weeks when Chris and I were conceived, and was only twenty four when she gave birth to us on a rainy September evening. From that point onwards she'd given up detective work, and once Chris and I started school she began typing up her adventures. She promptly found an agent and a publisher, and her books were an instant hit. Since then she'd produced a range of crime thrillers, many revolving around her character Detective Inspector Sinead Connell.
But it seemed the life of a girl detective is where her heart truly lay, as did mine. Rubbing my converse shoes together as I fruitlessly flexed for freedom I muttered, "I don't think I'll ever give this up."
"Oh I thought that at your age," mum smiled. "Becoming pregnant puts a lot of things into perspective. There was no way I could have continued with two young kids. And by the time you were older I'd developed a new career. You never lose the love for it, but…real life takes over eventually."
"You know, much as I'm enjoying our chat, it won't do us much good if Goldieteeth out there comes back and we haven't got loose," I remarked, staring at the ceiling as another intense bout of wriggling yielded no result.
"Well good job your mum's still got it," she told me as she pulled her hands free.
A relieved smile breaking out over my face, I said, "Nice one! I guess you never lose the knack for wriggling free."
"True, but your father still keeps things fresh for me from time to time," she winked mischievously.
"OK, more than I wanted to know," I exclaimed, feeling just a little grossed out.
But even as mum started untying the knots binding her knees there was a sudden commotion from outside; frantic shouting, the flashing of torches and footsteps running in all directions. "I don't like the sound of that," mum muttered. Nor did I.
I watched on in anticipation as mum kicked off the ropes binding her legs. Once she was completely free she turned her attention onto me, trying desperately to pick the knot fixing my wrists together as the ruckus from outside grew louder and louder.
Suddenly the door to the club was thrown open, and in strode Damien with a look of abject fury. Through his clenched golden teeth he snarled, "Nice try girls, but I'm not letting anyone send me back to prison this time!" I felt a pang of icy fear when I saw the knife in his hand. I jerked my wrists free as the ropes fell away, but with my legs still bound there was no way I could escape as he advanced purposefully on me and mum.
But then a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders roughly, pulled him back then slammed him face down on the nearest table. Damien emitted angry exclamations and grunts while his attacker wrenched the knife from his grasp, before pulling a pair of handcuffs from his belt. "Damien Green, I am arresting you on suspicion of smuggling and abduction," my dad announced firmly, before reciting the rest of the pre-requisite lines. He looked at us both while he cuffed Damien's hands behind him, and shot us a reassuring wink.
As the golden toothed crook was led outside by uniformed officers, mum finally removed the ropes from my legs. We gingerly helped each other to our feet as dad came over to check we were alright. "I got your message madam," he informed me with his eyebrow raised. "What part of 'don't go investigating Damien Green' was I speaking in Sanskrit?"
"Yeah like I was ever not going to investigate him," I smiled, giving him a hug as my way of thanking him.
"Don't worry, I've already lectured her on the subject," mum told him happily.
Dad's exasperated expression then turned on her. "A lecture on not getting in trouble coming from you? That's rich. Remember I won't be on call to rescue you both every single time."
"Of course you will be sweetheart," mum told him as she draped her hands around his neck and gave him a congratulatory kiss. I looked away mortified as my parents indulged themselves.
Once they were done dad cast his eyes to the ceiling and gave a knowing sigh of defeat. He then grabbed me around my shoulders and pulled us all in together. "What did I ever do to deserve a pair of girls like you?" he beamed happily at us.