The Guild – a secret organisation that
has existed since the dawn of civilisation.
We know very little about them, and what we do know would normally be consigned
to the books of fantasy and fiction. They are a band of thieves and criminals,
its members from all four corners of the globe, devoted to maintaining the
balance between good and evil. If you live a life free from crime and injustice
then their existence will pass you by. If you live a life of greed, cruelty and
debauchery then one day they may pay you a visit, and you will know what it is
like to suffer as the victim of criminal activity.
'God why does Professor Moore have me read this crap?' Gemma thought as she let her mind wander from the book she was trying to read for her history degree. Bored she flung the book against her pillow, before flinging herself back onto her bed to grab a magazine from her bedroom floor.
She hadn't been reading for long when she heard a knock at her door. She looked up to see her younger sister Hermione in the doorway, dressed up for a night on the town. She wore a dark blue dress with the hem well above her knees, jet black stockings and glittering silver high heels. Her long blonde hair was frayed and expertly styled to look as scruffy as possible. "Fancy coming out tonight sis? Jasmine's booked a private booth at Fernando's!"
Gemma sighed happily as she swung her nylon clad legs off of the bed, before adjusting her short jean skirt and red long sleeved top. "Sounds like a plan, I'm so fed up studying for these exams. I'll head off once I've had dinner."
"Speaking of dinner I think it's nearly ready" said Hermione. "Wouldn't want to keep Henrietta waiting would we?"
Henrietta was indeed waiting for her two stepdaughters to come downstairs for dinner. "Reckon I should call them down?" she asked her friend Katy, who was already sitting at the table sipping an expensive glass of white wine.
"Just let them know the wine's been opened. That'll get them down in a matter of seconds" Katy joked.
Henrietta laughed as she emptied the pasta into a serving dish. Katy never failed to cheer her up. When she learnt that her husband would be working late she had invited her over for dinner. Katy had dressed up for the occasion, her red hair falling loosely over her shoulders and she wore a fashionable white blouse, blue jeans and brown ankle boots. Henrietta's own outfit compared well, dressed in a flowing beige skirt and a brown long sleeved top with black suede boots and colourless tights. She swept her long brown hair out of her face before picking up the dish with the oven gloves and carrying it over to the table. It was at this point Gemma and Hermione skidded into the kitchen.
"Smells really nice" Gemma announced as she took her seat.
"What, the food or the alcohol?" Henrietta smiled, before topping up the four wine glasses placed on the table. She had married Gemma and Hermione's father four years ago. She was thirteen years younger than him and only fifteen years older than the twenty year old Gemma. People had said all sorts when she had agreed to marry the millionaire owner of Bluebird Accounts Derrick Smith, and only two years after the messy divorce of his first wife. Yet, while the money had been the biggest attraction for her, she still felt a strong degree of affection towards her husband. That didn't stop her messing about with the gardener once a week when she was supposed to be having tennis lessons.
Gemma helped herself to a serving of pasta as Hermione downed half her glass of wine in one gulp. It had been their decision to live with their dad following the divorce of their parents. Given that it was guaranteed that their dad, with his power, money and influence would win the case and avoid having to pay their mum a penny of his massive fortune. Unfortunately one of the conditions of the divorce was that their dad had sole custody of them, and he refused to let them have any contact with their mum. Now they didn't even have a clue as to where she was living. It had been hard for them at first and they both still missed her, but the presents and money doted on them by their dad helped to ease the pain.
That was all history for the four ladies sitting around the table. All that mattered to them now was having a good time while the evening was still young. So they picked up their wine glasses, clinked them together and gave a big hearty chorus of "cheers!"
"I'll drink to that" a new voice said from behind the doorway none of them recognised.
They all froze, and turned to the doorway in time to see a stranger walk into the kitchen. He was dressed in a long grey overcoat, with a grey hooded top underneath with the hood pulled right up over his head, hiding his features from them.
"Oh my God!" Hermione screamed. Gemma and Katy gave out gasps of shock and placed their hands over their mouths. Henrietta, beginning to panic, got up out of her seat and grabbed the phone hanging on the wall. But before she could dial for help the intruder gave a flick of his wrist and sent something hurtling through the air towards her. Henrietta shrieked as a throwing knife pierced the phone, forced it out of her hand and pinned it against the wall.
"As you can see I'm very skilled with a blade" the intruder said icily, as he began twirling a second knife in his hand. He spoke in a strong accent that the ladies guessed was Italian. "I would strongly advise you not to take a chance on me missing my next shot, so please do not run or call for help. Understand?" The four women nodded nervously. "Now Henrietta, as you're on your feet, open the back door for me if you please."
"How do you know my name?" Henrietta asked, becoming more nervous by the second.
"My name is unimportant, my purpose however is" the intruder replied cryptically.
Keeping an eye on the knife in his hand Henrietta slowly walked to the sliding glass doors leading out to the garden and unlocked them. Within seconds they were pulled open as two more hooded men entered. The first was Asian in appearance and was carrying a large duffel bag slung over his shoulder. The second was tall and black skinned, and in his right hand he was holding a mobile telephone that looked far more advanced than anything to be found in a high street shop.
"Everyone is in position. They're waiting for us to complete stage two" the second man said in a strong American accent.
"Perfect. Now then ladies would you care for me to escort you to your living room?" the Italian said as he beckoned them to come through.
"Do we have a choice?" Hermione asked, trying to sound brave but unable to hide her rising fear.
Slowly and reluctantly the four women walked through into the living room. Waiting for them inside was a fourth intruder, a woman with her long red hair spilling out from underneath her hood, kneeling by the phone with wire cutters in her hand. From what Gemma could see of her face she could tell that she was very beautiful. "I've cut the phone lines and broadband" she announced as they entered the room, her accent that of a very aristocratic English woman.
"Good. Now then ladies kneel down on the floor with your hands on your heads!" the Italian intruder ordered.
As they did as instructed Gemma asked "what are you going to do with us?"
"If all goes according to plan and you behave yourselves, absolutely nothing at all" the Italian intruder told her. Yet his words didn't help to calm her down when the Asian intruder dropped his duffel bag, unzipped it and began to pull out coils of blue coloured rope. Both he and the African American intruder picked some rope each and knelt down behind Henrietta and Katy. The two women's hands were then pulled behind their backs and crossed over, before the two men began the process of binding them together.
Henrietta grimaced as she felt the ropes being pulled tighter and tighter. The cord was not uncomfortable or rough, but slipped around her wrists tightly and with very little slack. It was obvious that the men binding her and Katy had plenty of experience doing this. Once the ropes had been cinched she knew that it would take her a long time to wriggle free. Yet the way they had been tied and the material the rope was made out of indicated that the intruders wanted them to feel comfortable, which implied that they wanted them to remain unharmed.
As the men took another length of cord each and began to tie Henrietta and Katy's bodies above and below their breast, Gemma said "if it's money you want we can get you as much as you want."
The eyes of the female intruder staring at Gemma she replied "sweetheart, do we look like the kind of people interested in money?"
"I dunno, I haven't met many people who tie up women in their own homes" Katy growled defiantly as the ropes were knotted around her upper body. Then she and Henrietta were forced to sit with their legs forward, at which the two men began to tie their feet together. The silence throughout the room as they worked was almost palpable. The women had no way of knowing just what the true intentions of this strange group of people actually were. When Henrietta's skirt was pulled up they all began to panic, but the Asian intruder only did so to tie her legs together above her knees. Once Katy's legs had been bound in a similar fashion the two older women were made to sit back to back, before the longest strand of rope yet was wrapped around their waists and chests, pinning them together.
As the ropes around her were checked Henrietta said "do whatever you want to me, but please leave my step daughters alone! They don't have to go through this."
"Sorry, but I'm afraid that simply won't be possible" the Italian intruder told her as he scooped up several coils of rope himself from the floor.
From where she was still kneeling on the floor Hermione gave a nervous moan. "No please, I'll do what you say" she pleaded as the female intruder knelt down behind her, while the Italian intruder did the same behind Gemma. Within seconds their hands were being bound behind their backs as well.
"No let them go!" Henrietta insisted, straining with all her strength to get free. But while she focused on what was happening to her step daughters she failed to notice the Asian man balling up a handkerchief at the side. The first time she noticed was when he stuffed it into her mouth. "Mmmmm tttmmmm hhhlll" she grunted as behind her Katy received the same treatment. Before they could spit them out the men took long pieces of cloth that had been knotted in the middle. The knot was then placed into their mouth between their teeth, before the cloth ends were tied together behind their heads and underneath their hair.
As this was going on the two younger women were having ropes wound above and below their breasts. Hermione moaned as the cord rubbed against her bare shoulders. Next to her Gemma tried to keep calm by trying to figure out why this was happening. It would have made sense if these people were here to rob them, but they didn't seem interested in taking their possessions. Then there was what the African American intruder had said, about completing stage two. Obviously they were just part of some bigger plan, but why them? What part did they have to play in all this?
She was distracted from her thoughts by the Italian intruder stuffing a handkerchief into her mouth. She groaned as the cloth was pushed further inside and could hear her sister whimpering as the female intruder did the same to her. The next thing she knew a knotted cloth was pulled between her teeth and the ends tied behind her head underneath her long blonde hair.
"We should get going Adriano, we're behind schedule!" said the female intruder as she pulled the knotted cloth between Hermione's lips.
"Punctual as always Bryony" the Italian intruder remarked as he checked Gemma's bonds. "Blindfold the girls and then take them to the van. Jason, Haru; blindfold the women and stay with them here until the signal is given!"
"WWWWWMMMMM NNNNMMMMM" Hermione cried out into her gag at the thought of being taken away by these people.
"NNNNNMMMMM LLLLLMMMMM SSSSSSMMM GGGGMM!" Henrietta screamed as she struggled with a newfound energy. But there was nothing she could do to prevent her step daughters being yanked to their feet, or to prevent the Asian intruder named Haru from pulling a white cloth over her eyes and tying it behind her head.
The last thing Gemma saw was the African American intruder named Jason blindfold Katy, before she too had her eyes covered. She felt the knot being fastened behind her head, and then a pair of hands grabbed her by the shoulders and began to steer her towards the back door. She could hear the clop of Hermione's heels on the wooden floor as she followed behind her; and the frantic whimpers of Henrietta and Katy as they struggled to break free from their bonds. As she was directed outside into the night the only thing preventing her from giving into complete despair was the words of the Italian by name of Adriano. He had said she would not be harmed and he had no reason to lie, but then he had no reason to keep to his word either.
"Mr Smith, mind if I have a quick word?"
"Who the hell are you? Get out of my office now or I'll call security!" Derrick Smith bellowed angrily as a man he did not recognise entered his office unannounced and unscheduled.
"By all means call security. Given that my men have them otherwise preoccupied it won't do you any good" the stranger replied, sounding calm and collected.
His famous temper rising Derrick pulled his mobile phone from his jacket pocket. "Then I'll call the police. I'd like to see your men otherwise preoccupy them!"
But he only got as far as dialling the first 9 before the stranger pulled out a pistol from his own jacket and aimed it at him. "I don't want to use this Mr Smith. I find guns to be an utterly uncivilised means of achieving my aims, but I'm afraid circumstances require such measures."
"Ok ok calm down!" Derrick said as he raised his hands over his head instinctively. "What do you want, money, passwords, I can get you them..."
"What I want is for you to open your internet browser and type in the following email address. www.1hp9mvur65oopo9b.com. Please do so with all available haste!"
Reluctantly Derrick did as instructed, and took a seat before opening his half closed laptop. As the browser loaded the stranger sat down in the armchair facing his desk. He was immaculately dressed in a dark pinstripe suit with a matching tie and waistcoat. His greying hair was parted to the side and he had a perfectly trimmed beard. He guessed that the man was English because of his accent, and that he was well into his fifties.
Derrick typed in the address and watched as a livestream screen loaded onto his computer. When he saw the faces of his two daughters staring at him through the monitor he cried out in shock. They were sitting on chairs with a white sheet backdrop, ropes crisscrossing their bodies binding them to the seats. Their hands were bound behind them and pulled over the chair back, and they still had the knotted cloth gags in their mouths. Their blindfolds had been taken off, allowing Derrick to gaze into their tear filled eyes, Hermione's cheeks stained with mascara from when she had been crying.
"My God" Derrick breathed in horror as he watched Gemma strain against her bindings. "Let them go, let them go now or I swear I'll..."
"Your daughters are currently unharmed and will remain so if you co-operate" the stranger told him, still sounding as composed as before. "You have a very valuable piece of information that my organisation must obtain. You are the accountant for the three Burke brothers are you not?" Derrick nodded, unable to wrench his eyes away from the screen. "One of their assets is a building that has been listed as abandoned for a decade. We know this building exists but we do not know its location. However we know you do, and we want you to tell us where it is."
It took Derrick a while to reply, and when he did he gave a disdainful snort. "You must think I'm an idiot if you think I'll tell you that."
"So you know that the building is the central warehouse for an international white slavery ring, where women from across the country are brought to after being abducted from their homes and families before being sold to the highest bidder, never to return home again?" the stranger asked, for the first time anger creeping into his voice. Derrick didn't reply, at which the stranger continued "or do you not ask, which is essentially the same thing?"
"You don't ask the Burke brothers questions they don't want to answer" Derrick snapped in frustration. "And if you really want the location of that building then you might as well shoot me and my family right now, because that's what will happen to us if I do."
"We won't be shooting your daughters, but we will ensure that they share the same fate as the countless women you have condemned through your ignorance. We will sell them and have them transported to a far corner of the world where they will never be found."
“NO!" Derrick pleaded, his rising desperation becoming all the more apparent. "Please understand. The Burkes are too powerful..."
"My organisation wields influence that the Burkes and their kind could only dream of. We have men positioned across the world waiting for my signal, upon which they will apprehend every single member of this criminal gang. The Burkes operation will not just be destroyed, it will be erased from existence, and I can personally guarantee that you will never hear from the Burke brothers ever again. Now tell me where that warehouse is Mr Smith, if you please?"
Derrick fell silent as he weighed up his options. He knew it was a risk trusting this stranger, but as he stared at his bound and gagged daughters on the computer monitor he knew he had no choice. It was either do as he was told or never see his daughters again. "Manchester...34 West Street, Salford" he murmured, rubbing his eyes with his hands as if in disbelief at what he was doing.
"Much obliged" the stranger said as he reached for his mobile telephone. Without dialling a number he spoke into it "34 West Street, Salford, Manchester. Get going with all available haste!" He flipped his phone shut and then said to Derrick "now one more thing. Please transfer £100,000 to the following account number!"
"I thought you weren't interested in money?" Derrick howled.
"Just a small donation relative to your large fortune. My organisation needs a lot of money to remain operational..."
"Trrrrrmmmm hhhhmmmmm rrrrpppphh" Gemma grunted through her gag as she tried to grab hold of the ropes encircling Hermione, but grasping only thin air. Hermione glanced up at her but did not try to help her. She seemed paralysed, unable to move even if she hadn't been tied up. Frustrated Gemma wriggled her feet up and down, trying to shake free of the ropes binding her ankles as they rubbed against her skin through her stockings.
It seemed like hours since they had been tied to these chairs and abandoned by their captors. The one thing she knew was that she was in some sort of van, as they were facing the double doors with their backs to the drivers section, which had been covered by a white sheet. The only other object in the van was a video camera mounted on a stand, filming their every move. Gemma didn't know why they were filming her, but she didn't like it regardless.
The door to the van opened and Adriano entered, his grey hood still pulled up over his head. The two girls "mmphhd" frantically at him and resumed their struggling.
"Relax ladies! Your father has complied with our demands and will be here in an hour to release you in person" Adriano explained as he dismantled the camera stand. "I am sorry you had to go through this. Placing innocent people in danger is not something I enjoy, particularly innocent ladies as beautiful as yourselves."
Gemma and Hermione breathed easier relieved that the end to their ordeal was in sight. Yet their relief was sort lived when Adriano turned to them and said "there is however one thing more you can do for me, if you do not wish to see me again that is."
"Wwrrrrrmmmm?" Gemma groaned as she shifted in her ropes, her imagination racing away with her as she wondered what it could be. She was surprised when from underneath his grey overcoat he produced a brown envelope, which he placed upon Gemma's lap.
"Take this to the address on the envelope within the week. Do not read the letter. It is for the eyes of the person at that address only. Do this and I promise you and your family will never hear from me or my organisation ever again. Have a good life ladies." With that he picked up the camera exited through the van doors, leaving the two young women to await their rescue.
"Authorities are still investigating the mysterious dismantling of a massive international slavery ring as the thirty one women rescued from a warehouse in Manchester remain in police protection. According to their statements they were being sold at auction when the building was raided by a gang of heavily armed and hooded men and women. The slavers were..."
Julie turned the radio off. It was nice to hear some good news for once, but that didn't solve her problems. She stared around at the small flat she had lived in since the divorce, before her eyes fell on the letters sprawled out on her kitchen table. Late bills, overdue rent and maxed out credit cards: it was becoming too much for her to take.
She froze as she heard a knock at the door. She wasn't expecting visitors. She wondered if this was it, and that the landlord had arrived to seize her property. Her stomach tying itself in knots she trudged to the front door and slowly opened it. Yet it wasn't the landlord. Instead it was the most wonderful gift she could have ever wished for.
"Gemma, Hermione!" she gasped in astonishment, her hands clasping over her mouth.
"Oh my God!" Hermione cried out.
"Mum" Gemma breathed, barely believing it.
They stared at each other in silence for a split second. Then without saying a word the reunited family embraced each other. The pain of recent events was forgotten, and all they felt was overwhelming happiness to be together again.
"What are you doing here?" Julie asked over the lump forming in her throat.
Pulling out of the hug Gemma explained "we were told to take this letter to the person at the address. They said only you can look at it...and..." she trailed off, as tears began to run down her cheeks.
Julie took the envelope out of her hands, before saying "come inside and tell me everything. I've just put the kettle on."
As they went inside the flat they failed to notice a woman with red hair watching them from down the corridor. Bryony smiled as she saw the door shut behind them, before she dialled a number on her phone and said into it "you can transfer the funds now!"
Inside the flat Julie leant against the wall, the emotion of seeing her daughters again after all this time almost overwhelming her. She stared at Gemma and Hermione as they took a seat on the sofa in her living room, then looked at the envelope in her hands. She hesitated at first, then she ripped it open and read the letter inside.
Dear Mrs Philips
As of this moment we have transferred £100,000 of your ex husbands money into your bank account. We lamentably put your daughters through a harrowing experience, and as compensation we felt it necessary to right some of the wrongs Derrick Smith has committed. Use the money to help them recover from their ordeal and restore your shattered relationship. But tell no-one of this, otherwise you will find the money will once again disappear.
May our paths never cross again.