Hardball

 

 

 

“I thought it was a joke – you really have to wear that?”

 

Harriet could hear her daughter laughing in the upstairs room, where she had gone to talk to her cousin Alex.  Alex’s mother Yvonne was sat opposite her, a drink tinkling in the glass in her hand.

 

“So, how is Tokyo?” she asked as she sat down and took a sip of her gin and tonic.

 

“Fascinating place – you would not believe the culture shock when you first arrive, but we’re getting used to it now.  Peter seems to be working all the hours God sends, but apart from that...”

 

Harriet smiled.  She had met her sister and niece at the airport, without a chance to change from her office outfit.  Her white silk blouse had a ruffled front and long sleeves, and her brown skirt came to just below her knees.  Harriet’s brown hair was done up in a bun, while her legs were covered in taupe coloured tights.  Yvonne was wearing a more casual outfit, of a light green blouse and dark pink jeans.

 

“Anyway, thanks for agreeing to have us for a couple of weeks.  Where’s Dave?”

 

“Working late at the office,” Harriet said as she took another sip.  “I’ll sort some takeout in a little while – tell me about the flight first.”

 

 

 

 

Jenny couldn’t stop herself laughing as Alex stood in front of her, twirling round in the school outfit she had put on to show her cousin.  It was a light green blouse with a blue sailor collar and the school crest on her left breast, a matching blue pleated skirt and a red scarf hanging loosely around her neck.  The outfit was completed by knee length blue socks and flat black shoes.

 

“For goodness sake, Alex,” she said as she tried to stop herself laughing, “you’re nearly eighteen and they force you to wear that.”

 

“Only to school – otherwise I get to wear outfits even skimpier than yours,” Alex said with a smile.  Her dark hair was cut in a fringe over her eyes and shoulder length behind, as opposed to Jenny’s long brown hair which was pulled back in a ponytail.  She was wearing a tight brown roll neck sweater, blue denim skirt and knee length black fabric boots.  Sitting on her bed, she finally managed to wipe her eyes and stop laughing as she sat down on the bed.

 

“Girls,” she heard her mother calling up, “Do you want pizza?”

 

“Yes, mum,” Jenny called down as she listened to her mother talking on the phone.  “Great,” Alex said as she closed the door, “it’s been far too long since I had a decent deep pan.  Give me a moment and I’ll get out of this.”  As she reached up to undo the scarf, the door bell rang.

 

“That’s fast service,” Alex said as they heard Harriet opening the door, and a muffled conversation.  Footsteps echoed as someone climbed the stairs, and there was a knock on the door.

 

“Girls,” they heard Yvonne say, “Can I come in?”

 

“Sure, mum,” Alex said, but as the door opened and they saw the woman standing there with her mother the two girls slowly stood up and their mouths fell open.

 

 

 

“Ah, good – everyone is here now.”

 

Alex and Jenny were pushed into the room with Alex by the other woman, and saw Harriet sitting there with two men standing either side of her as she sat in the chair.  All three of the new arrivals were dressed in grey boiler suits, and had stocking pulled over their heads.  One of the men looked older than the other, as if he was his father, while the blonde hair of the woman was clearly visible through the stretched nylon.

 

“Sit down, all three of you, and put your hands on your heads,” the older man said, and Alex felt the woman place her hand on her shoulder as she was made to sit down.  The girl was carrying a gun in her hand, while the younger man had a heavy club that he swung and smacked down onto his leather gloved hand.   The older man stayed behind Harriet, who stared at the other three with tear filled eyes.

 

“I’m sorry, girls,” she said, “They forced their way in and made your mother come up and fetch you down.”

 

“Enough talk,” the older man said as she walked round, “Is there anyone else in the house?”

 

“No,” Harriet said as her eyes were fixed on the shotgun in his hands, the barrel sawn to within a few inches of the stock.

 

“Check and make sure, Son”, he said, and the younger man nodded as he left the room.  “Are you expecting any visitors,” the man continued as he looked at Harriet.

 

“No –yes, we ordered some pizzas,” Harriet said as she looked up.

 

“Well, then, we need to make sure you don’t raise the alarm when they arrive – we intend to be here some time.  How long?”

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

“How long did they say they would be?” he repeated as he pointed the sawn off barrel at Harriet.

 

“Half.. half an hour,” she blurted out.

 

“Excellent,” the man said as he stepped back and walked to where a bag was sitting on the coffee table.  Opening the bag, he took out three small coils of rope and passed them to the masked woman.  “Make sure these three are nice and comfortable, Daughter – they are the way we make sure mummy here doesn’t say anything when the pizzas arrive.  Start with the schoolgirl.”

 

“Yes Father,” the girl replied as she unravelled a length of rope.  Putting her hand on Alex’s shoulder, she pushed her forward so that her head was in her lap, then pulled her wrists behind her back and placed them one on top of the other before starting to wrap the rope around them, pulling them tightly together with each pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The young man was waiting as Harriet opened the door.

 

“Pizza – sign here,” the man said as he passed Harriet the boxes and a slip of paper.

 

“All... All right, just let me put these down,” she said as she placed the boxes on a table by the door and took the pen from the young man.

 

“Are you all right,” he said as she looked at Harriet.  Her hand was shaking as she signed the slip of paper and handed it back.

 

“Yes, I’m just a little tired,” she said as she smiled weakly and handed the young man a ten note.  “Thanks for everything.”

 

“thank you, ‘mam,” he said as Harriet closed the door on him.  He walked back this bike, unaware of the sigh Harriet gave as she looked at Father standing to the side of the main door.

 

“Well done,” he said as he took her by the arm and led her back to the room.  “Let’s see how the other three are doing.”

 

Yvonne looked up as the tow people came back into the main room.  She had been looking at the two girls, trying to figure out how the ropes around their wrists had been tied to no avail.  She twisted her own wrists round, or at least attempted to, but the rope had been tied over the cuffs of her blouse and there was no give in the binding.

 

“Stay there,” Father said as he took hold of Harriet’s shoulder and took a length of rope from Daughter.  Placing his shotgun where the other three could see it, he pulled the frightened woman’s hands behind her back and wrapped the rope around her wrists, pulling them tightly together and ensuring the rope was cinched by passing it between her wrists and tightening the loops.  Harriet winced as the rope cut through the cuffs of her blouse, but stifled the cry of pain.  Satisfied he had secured her wrists tightly, Father pushed her into the chair she had got out of as Son came back into the room.

 

“The house is empty,” he said as he looked at the four captives.  “Is that pizza out there?”

 

“Later – we have work to do first,” Father said as he stood in front of the fireplace.  “Daughter, take their shoes and boots off before we begin.”

 

“What do you want of us,” Jenny asked as Daughter pulled her boots off, revealing a pair of knee length black socks.  As she took Alex’s shoes off, and then moved to Yvonne, Father turned and knelt next to Harriet.

 

“We’re using you as collateral for a loan we need to negotiate with your husband,” he said as Daughter took her shoes off.  “Do as you’re told, and nobody gets hurt.  We’ll call your husband in a little while and let him know what’s happening, but for now we need to make sure these young girls don’t get tempted to raise the alarm.

 

“Son, Daughter – take these two away and get them settled.  Any thoughts where?”

 

“I have the perfect place, Father,” Son said as Daughter picked up the bag and took Alex by the arm.  Taking Jenny by her arm, he forced her to stand and the two girls were marched out of the room.

 

“Mum,” Jenny called out as the door was closed, and Father sat down on the couch next to Yvonne.  “now, ladies, what shall we talk about – I know, where the safe is,” he said with a smile.”

 

 

 

Son pushed open the door to the store room and pushed Jenny inside.  As she turned round, she was met by Alex as she too was pushed into the room, and Daughter closed the door behind them.  Son switched on a bare light that hung from the ceiling.

 

“All right, girls, just do as you’re told and you’ll be just fine.  Turn round and keep your backs to us.”

 

As he said this, Son took a large skein of rope from the bag and passed it to Daughter who started to unravel it and double it over.  He pulled out another skein and shook it out, before standing behind Jenny and passing the rope around her arms and chest below her breasts.  As he pulled the rope tight, fixing her arms to her side, she looked over to see the same thing happening to Alex.  The buttons of her blouse strained as the rope was passed above and below her breasts, fixing her red scarf down to her chest as the ropes were pulled tighter.

 

Jenny looked over her shoulder as Son pulled the remaining ends of the long rope between the loops of rope behind her back, using them to pull her bound wrists up so that they lay parallel against her back and the arm loops.  Turning her round, she looked at Alex wincing as Daughter repeated the actions on her ropes, so that both girls were securely bound on the upper body.

 

“Very nice,” Son said as he checked the ropes around Alex.  “Now , we have a little surprise for both of you.  Our intent was for you and your mother to have these,” he said as he looked at Jenny, “but you can both have them now.”

 

He held up two leather straps, which had been threaded through two large black rubber balls, and Alex whispered “No, please don’t” as he handed one to Daughter.  Jenny stared at Son as he stood in front of her and said “Open wide and say ah...”

 

 

 

 

 

“Can I help you?”

 

The smartly dressed receptionist looked up at the middle aged woman standing there, a black woollen coat over her body and a red scarf wrapped round her neck. 

 

“I have an appointment with the manager,” the woman said with a quiet voice.  The receptionist looked down the diary on her desk.”

 

“Mrs Lupin?” she said as she looked up, and the older woman nodded.  “I’m afraid he’s running a little late – will you take a seat?  Perhaps a coffee?”

 

“Thank you,” she said as she sat on the expensive leather sofa, “I would prefer tea if you have it, however.”

 

 

 

“NGGH!”

 

Jenny turned and looked over her shoulder as Son pulled the rope tightly around her calves just below her knees.  He had forced her to lie face down on the wooden floor before wrapping rope around her ankles, and was now completing the job of securing her legs together.

 

Behind her, Alex was sitting against the wall, her eyes closed and a line of saliva running from her lips around the rubber ball that was strapped into her mouth.  Daughter had tied her ankles and legs together, and she was keeping her legs up to avoid kicking the boxes that lay to her side.

 

“Well, girls,” Son said as he stood up, “just stay nice and quiet.  We’re going back to be with your mothers now, so enjoy the solitude.

 

“And the darkness.”  With that, Son turned off the light and closed the door on the two bound and gagged girls.  Jenny started to throw her legs up and down, trying to loosen the ropes around them, while Alex quietly started to cry to herself.

 

 

 

“All taken care of,” Father said as Son and Daughter came into the front room.

 

“They’re nice and quiet – what do you want us to do next,” Son said as he picked up a slice of pizza.

 

“Enjoying that?” Yvonne said with a sarcastic tone as she watched Son take a bite.  “Yeah – thanks for thinking of us,” he said, and as Daughter laughed Harriet looked up at her.

 

“Do you think it’s funny to tie people up and steal their food?  What have you done with our daughters?”

 

Father reached down and took hold of Harriet’s chin, forcing her to look into his masked face.

 

“You are in no position to make funnies, so don’t push it,” he said, and Harriet bit her lower lip.

 

“Say sorry,” Father repeated as he looked into her eyes, and Son stood behind Yvonne.  Harriet looked over at her sister, before whispering “Sorry.”

 

“Better – now,” Father said as he looked at his watch, “We’re going to get a phone call in a minute.  Say exactly what I tell you, and nothing else.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Mrs Lupin – thank you for being so patient with me.”

 

Dave Goldacre sat behind his oak desk as the older woman sat on the opposite side.  She held her large shoulder bag on her lap as he looked over some papers.

 

“Now, I understand you wish to open an account with our branch.”

 

“Not exactly, but I would like to discuss the possibility of a loan.”

 

“Well, I need to know exactly what you are considering, and what collateral you have to offer.”

 

“Of course,” the woman said as she opened her bag.  “Perhaps we can first discuss the amount I wish to borrow and the terms, and then I can discuss the collateral?”

 

“Of course,” Dave said as he sat back, “What did you have in mind?”

 

“Oh, the entire contents of your branch safe,” she said as she withdrew a small pistol and pointed it at him, “on a no return basis.  Do not touch the panic button – if you do, and I know where it is, your family is dead ten seconds before you are.”

 

Dave looked at the woman, sitting there with a smile on her face, and considered what she had said.  “What do you mean by that?” he said quietly.

 

“I’m here to clean your safe out,” the woman said with a smile, “and please, call me Mother.”

 

“Mother?”

 

“Mother.  As to the collateral – well,” she said as she picked up the telephone receiver and handed it to Dave, “Why don’t you call home?  I think someone there wants to talk to you.”

 

 

 

“They’re late.”

 

Son looked up as he finished fixing Yvonne’s wrists to the ropes that encircled her arms and chest, holding them tightly to her side.  Her stocking clad feet were peeking out from the cuffs of her jeans as she sat there, wondering what was going to happen next.

 

“Patience, Son,” Father said as he placed his hand on Harriet’s shoulder.  “I’m sure we’ll.... ah, get that, would you Daughter.”

 

The sound of the telephone ringing in the hallway came through the open door, and the two women watched as Daughter went to the hallway while the answering machine kicked in.  The short prompt to leave a message was followed by a male voice calling out “Harriet?  Answer the phone, Harriet.”  They heard the beep that indicated the handset had been raised, Daughter saying “Just a moment,” and then she walked in and handed the handset to Father.

 

“Remember, as we said,” Father whispered as he held the handset next to Harriet’s ear.

 

“Dave?”

 

“Harriet – who answered the phone?  Are you all right?”

 

“We will be, Dave, but listen to me.  They have me and Jenny, as well as Yvonne and Alex hostage.”

 

“Yvonne and Alex?  I forgot they were arriving today.  Harriet, have they hurt you?”

 

“No – there are three of them, and they’ve taken the girls somewhere else, but we’re fine.  Dave, they want you to do exactly what the woman there with you tells you to do, and then we’ll be unharmed.  If you don’t – well, there’s a man here with a sawn off shotgun and I don’t think he’s afraid to use it.”

 

The line went silent, and then “The girls – are they all right?”

 

“I think so – we can’t hear them, but they’ve been in and out of the room, so I think they’re checking on them.  Dave, please, just do as they say so this can be over with.”

 

“All right – you say there’s a man with you?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Let me talk to him.”

 

Harriet looked up at Father, and said “My husband wants to talk to you.”  He took the phone to his ear, listened for a few minutes, then said “You can threaten all you want Mister Goldacre, but we are the ones with guns pointing at your family.  Do what the lady tells you, ,to the letter, and this will soon all be over.

 

“And no attempts to raise the alarm – we’ll know.  Now, give the phone to the woman there.

 

“Mother, do you think he will be any trouble?

 

“Good – we’ll wait for your call.”

 

He handed the handset back to Daughter, and looked at his watch.  “It’s time,” he said, “Take this one up to the daughter’s bedroom, and I’ll take care of the wife.”

 

“Stand up,” son said as he took Yvonne by the arm and forced her to stand up.  Harriet watched as her sister was forced to walk out of the living room and up the staircase.

 

“And now, Mrs Goldacre,” Father said as he used Harriet’s name for the first time, “Show me where that safe is.”

 

 

 

Jenny’s room was fairly typical for a teenager, with neatly stacked bookshelves and a single bed against the wall with a floral patterned duvet on it.  Son pushed Yvonne into the room, saying “Lie face down on the bed,” as he did so.

 

“Oh god, please don’t tell me,” Yvonne started to say, but a look from Son made her stop.

 

“No, I’m not – although you’re very beautiful woman,” he said as he drew a couple of lengths of rope from his pocket, “but I am going to make sure you can’t get free and raise  the alarm.  Now, lie down and stay still.”

 

Yvonne walked over and sat on the bed, before moving her legs over and lying back with her head on the pillow.  With one last defiant look at Son, she rolled herself over and buried her head in the soft pillow, while he walked over and started to loop a length of rope around her stocking covered ankles.  As he pulled the rope tighter, she heard Daughter come into the room and say “Will this do?”

 

“Perfect,” she heard Son reply.  “Go and check on the girls – I’ll join you in a few minutes.”

 

 

 

 

“Very nice, lady – now you just sit there while I put these into my bag,”

 

Harriet stared at Father as he loaded the jewellery cases from the safe into his bag.  She also now had ropes around her arms and chest, forcing the fabric of her blouse to stretch over her breasts and starting to smooth out the ruffles at places on the front of her blouse.

 

“You’ll never get away with this,” she said as Father closed the bag.  “My husband will never do what you ask.”

 

“If he wasn’t going to do what we tell him to do,” Father said as he pushed the safe door to, “I would have had a phone call and you would be in no fit position to have this conversation.  IS that very clear?”

 

Harriet nodded.  Although he had not actually harmed her, apart from the rope burns, she knew that he was someone who meant what he said.  She watched him as he set the bag on the table and looked at her.

 

“We’ll be gone in a few minutes, but first we need to make sure you’re safe.  Open wide and say ah.”

 

Harriet looked at the large handkerchief he was balling up in his gloved hand, and nodded as she opened her mouth wide.

 

 

 

Yvonne grunted as Son tied the ends of the thin white scarf tightly together at the base of her neck.  He had secured her legs together below her knees, and stuffed a scarf into her mouth before pushing the knot in the centre of the strip between her teeth and securing the gag.  Now she finally allowed her head to fall to one side as it fell back down onto the cotton pillowcase.

 

“All done,” she heard Daughter say as she lay there with her eyes closed.  Behind her head, a large white stuffed rabbit looked mutely on at the scene.

 

“All done,” Son replied as he turned the light off.  “Let’s go.”

 

 

 

Harriet grunted as Father led her into the master bedroom, and looked round.  Daughter had already searched the room, and the contents of all the drawers were scattered around the floor.

 

“Let’s find somewhere more comfortable,” Father said as he opened a set of wooden doors that were in the wall.  “This will do – sit down.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Thank you for your cooperation, Mr Goldacre,” Mother said as she closed the clasp on the bag she was carrying.  Dave sat at the desk, his head in his hands.

 

“Do nothing for one hour – do not call the police, tell no-one here what has happened.  We’ll tell you when you can call home, and not a second before, or your family is history.

 

“Good day to you.”

 

Mother turned and walked out of the room, leaving Dave wondering if she meant what she had said.  He sat there for a while, wondering what to do, before summoning up the courage to pick up the telephone and dial home.  He listened to the ringing tone, before hearing the man who had spoken earlier saying “We told you that if you called home there would be trouble.  This is you one and only warning – don’t do it again.”

 

 

 

 

In the house, Harrier screamed through her cloth filled mouth as she heard the telephone line go dead.  She was sat in her dress closet, her ankles and legs tightly bound with rope and the door clasp closed at the other side.  The light from the bedroom lamp was shining through the wooden slats, but her screams of frustration, anger and fear continued long after the telephone stopped ringing....

 

 

 

 

 

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