Home From The Mall
When it first opened in 1988, the Metro Centre was the largest enclosed shopping mall in the UK. Since then, bigger malls have opened, but the Metro is still a popular place to go and shop, eat and meet people. This particular Saturday was no exception, and in the upmarket Coffee shop business was brisk. There were young couples, older couples, families and people on their own or with others. Betty Fordson and her two daughters, Heidi and Natasha, were just one of the many groups of shoppers who stopped in for a coffee and cake. As they sat in the café, the other tables were full, including a father and his daughter, two couples with younger children and several elderly ladies.
“You don’t mind if Heidi and I stay on fro a while, do you Mum,” Natasha said as she took a sip of her hot chocolate. The older daughter by two years, she was wearing a white bomber jacket with a faux fur trim that stopped above her waist, black leggings and golden sandals. Heidi was wearing a black leather jacket, tight jeans and grey short suede boots, and kicked with her foot at the bags of shopping that sat under their table. Both girls had curly black hair that lay down to their shoulders.
“I thought we could have night in together, given your father is away on that golfing weekend, but no, I don’t mind - how will you get back?” Betty said as she sipped her Americano. Now in her early forties, and with an ex-husband who had left her for a “younger model”, she had earned enough over the years to buy him out and keep a comfortable style of living.
“We’ll get the train back to Central and then the Metro to Jesmond – we can walk from there,” Heidi said in a bored manner. Betty looked sternly at her – she may be sixteen, but in her eyes she was still a child.
“All right – take some money”, she said as she handed the two girls some money. “Call me when you’re on your way home.”
“Thanks, Mum,” Natasha said as she put the notes in her jacket pocket, “Be seeing you.” She and Heidi stood up and made their way out of the coffee. The father and daughter stood up at the same time, made their way over to the counter and settled their bill as the two girls walked out.
The two girls made their way through the main malls to the cinema, stopping only to pick up some refreshments. The couple watched them walking down the lane, as the young woman kissed the older man and headed off in one direction, while he went the opposite way.
Betty finished her coffee, stood up and checked the large brown wool pashmina that was over her shoulders was still fastened by her large ruby and gold brooch. Bending down, she picked up the bags and made her way to where she had parked their Octavia in the Red car park. As she walked out of the lift and towards her car, she wished she hadn’t put her car keys in her handbag, as she just wanted to get going. Reaching her car, she put the bags on the ground and retrieved her keys, unlocking the door and opening the boot so that she could stack her purchases in there. Around her other shoppers were opening and closing doors, so the sound of slamming could be heard all over as Betty closed the lid and went towards the driver seat.
Settling herself in the seat, she checked the mirrors and went to place the key in the ignition, but two things stopped her. One was the sudden pressure as something small and round was pressed into her back. The second was the male voice that she heard behind her in a low whisper.
“Don’t look round or do anything to bring attention to yourself. This is a 38mm revolver that you can feel pressing into the small of your back, and I will not hesitate to use it if necessary. Nod your head if you understand.”
Betty slowly nodded her head as she looked in the rear view mirror, but only her blue eyes and the fringe of her bobbed blonde hair were reflected back. “What do you want?” she whispered.
“I don’t want to hurt you; I just need a place to rest up for a while. Drive out of the car park, nice and normal, and then head home. We’ll take it from there.”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Betty, just drive out of here and make your way home without any attention. I’ll explain later what will happen. I’m not going to move, but I will be here, so no funny stuff or it will be the last thing you do.”
With a fearful look back, Betty put her car into reverse and made her way out of the car park. Driving down the Western bypass, she turned along the Gateshead road and joined the Central motorway after crossing the Tyne Bridge, the pressure in her back never letting up.
She turned onto the Jesmond road, passing the church and then turning left just before the Dean underpass. Eventually, she pulled into a driveway.
“Does your garage have an automatic opening device,” the man said, but Betty simply pressed a button on her dashboard and the garage door swung open. Driving in, she stopped the engine and sat stock still as the garage door swung close beside her.
“That’s very good Betty,” the voice said, “now pass me your door keys from your handbag – and don’t try to use your phone or anything, or you will not live to regret it.”
Betty took her handbag from where she had placed it at her feet, opened it and drew out a set of keys, which she held over her shoulder until she felt someone take them.
“Now, sit still with your hands on your head and don’t move,” the voice said, and Betty raised her hands to place them on her head. As she did so, the pashmina slipped back to reveal the floral print on the arms of her silk blouse.
She heard the back door of her car open, and then looked to her right as the door was opened. Standing there, holding a pistol and the keys, was the older man from the couple in the café. Her was wearing a brown overcoat and dark trousers, and waved with the gun to indicate Betty should get out.
He looked at Betty as she stood there with her hands on her head and he closed the door. She was wearing a long brown straight skirt with brown ankle boots, and was staring at him with a dawning light of recognition.
“I know you,” she said, “you’ve been…..”
“We can discuss this inside, Betty,” the man said as he opened the door, “after you.”
The crowd left the cinema, and Heidi and Natasha were laughing and talking as they made their way to the Mexican restaurant. They didn’t notice the young woman taking a call on her mobile telephone, nodding and watching them as they entered the front entrance, and then walking quickly out of the centre.
“Well, that takes care of that, Betty. Would you like a cup of tea? I’ll pour.”
Betty glared at the man as they sat at her kitchen table. He had allowed her to remove her shawl and place it on the table, alongside her handbag, but her hands were flat, palm down on the table top, and she was staring at the man as he sat there in his jumper and trousers.
“You’re George Simpson, aren’t you?” She finally said as he passed her a cup of tea.
“Guilty as charged – so if my reputation precedes me, you know that I just need somewhere to stay for a few hours and then I’ll be on my way. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you – merely inconvenience you for a while.”
Betty took a sip of her tea. “Just how long so you think you’ll be here for?”
“Oh, until tomorrow morning I think. Don’t worry, your daughters will be safe as well – but we’ll talk about that when they get home.”
“wh…. You were watching us in the coffee shop, you and your daughter?”
“Well, she’s not my daughter, but yes we noticed you there. I followed you and my companion is watching your daughters – it was her I just called. Drink your tea, Betty – it’s going to be a while before they get back. Something about a Mexican restaurant, I think…”
“We’d better let her know where we are.” Heidi swallowed a mouthful of her enchiladas and nodded at her sister.
“Hang on,” Natasha replied as she took her phone out of her handbag and called home.
“Mum? It’s me – Heidi and I stayed on to get a bite to eat. You haven’t cooked anything for us, have you?
“OK then, we’re heading for the train in half an hour. See you later – bye.”
“Is she upset?”
“No – if anything, she seemed too calm. We’d better head back sooner rather than later – eat up.”
Betty replaced the receiver and turned to look at the man standing next to her.
“So, are you that man the police are looking for – George Simpson?”
George inclined his head. “Guilty as charged Betty – my friend and I have some business in the city tomorrow, so we need somewhere private to stay tonight. Thank you for volunteering.”
George took Betty by the arm and led her into the front room, helping her to sit in an armchair. “I promise you that if you don’t try anything, you will be just fine tomorrow.”
“Ah – tonight will be a long night. Take your boots off, Betty – you need to be comfortable.”
The two girls walked up the stairs out of Jesmond station, as the night started to come in over the parish church. They made their way around and over the main road, walking at a brisk pace past the shops until they came to their road at the side of Jesmond Dean. The sounds of the local wildlife came up from the Dean as they approached their house.
“Do you think she’ll be mad at us now?”
“Who knows?” Natasha said as she opened the door and the two girls walked in, closing the door behind them. She called out “Mum?” but the only sound was from the CD player in the front room.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” Natasha said as she headed to the kitchen, while Heidi opened the door to the room.
“Mum, are you….” The sound of Heidi talking was suddenly cut off.
“Heidi, are you all right?” Natasha called through.
“Nattie, can you come here a minute please,” Heidi called back, and Natasha noted the different tone in her voice.
“You haven’t called me Nattie for years, Hei…” she said as she came through, and saw what had silenced her sister. Betty was sat in the armchair, her wrists crossed and tied together in front of her and the rope running down and around her ankles. A Hermes scarf was stuffed in her mouth, and she looked at her daughters with a mixture of regret and fear. Behind the chair was a man in his late forties, with hair that was peppered with grey, a fawn jumper and brown trousers, and a pistol pointing at her mother.
“Natasha, isn’t it?” he said as the doorbell rang. “Please, go and answer the door. Your sister can stay there for the moment.”
Natasha slowly turned, looked at Heidi who was standing there with her hands over her mouth, and slowly walked to the front door. She opened it to a young woman of about twenty years of age, wearing a brown leather jacket and boots over her jeans, and a white roll neck sweater. She pushed her way past Natasha, closing the door behind her, then took the frightened girl by the arm and pulled her back into the front room.
“Lily, my dear,” George said as the two women walked in, “I hope you weren’t waiting outside for long.”
“No – but you owe me for a taxi.”
“I’ll pay you tomorrow. First, kindly bind the wrists of these two young ladies and sit them down on the couch over there.”
Reaching into her jacket pocket, Lily pulled out two lengths of cord, and walked over to where Heidi still had her wrists over her mouth. Grabbing them, she quickly crossed and bound them before pushing her onto the couch. Natasha quickly followed suit.
“Nice work – now be a dear and fix us all a cup of tea – I’m parched.”
“No problem,” Lily said as she left the room, and George eased the scarf out of Betty’s mouth.
“Mum, what happened,” Heidi said in a high, quiet voice.
“He jumped me in the car – I haven’t been hurt, but he gagged me when he heard the key in the door to stop me warning you.”
“You’re the couple in the café,” Natasha slowly said. “I remember you left when we did.”
“Indeed,” George said as he knelt at their feet and started to bind their ankles with rope, “We’ll only be with you until the morning, but until then you will do as we say, understand?”
“Do we have a choice,” Heidi said as she winced at the tight cords around her boots.
“No” George said as he stood up, and removed the rope linking their mother’s wrists and ankles. “So, we’ll have a cup of tea, watch some television, and then later we’ll leave. AH – thank you my dear.”
Lily came in with a tray carrying a pot of tea and five mugs. She began pouring the hot liquid and passed a cup to George first, before offering each of the Fordsons a drink.
The night passed slowly, as the three women sat and listened to George and Lily talking about “their plan for tomorrow” and who they had to visit, not wanting to know how they were involved. Eventually Betty spoke up.
“I beg your pardon?” George said as he turned to face her.
“Why us? The papers all said you were in the west country, not the north-east, so why us?”
“Oh, I see what you mean – I’m afraid you were a random choice. Sometimes life’s like that – things happen for no other reason than pure chance. We were discussing what to do for the evening, when we overheard the three of you talking. Lily followed both of your daughters after they left, then I followed you from a distance. When you had the boot of your car open, I sneaked round and climbed in the back, then waited until you got in. Lily watched your daughters, and then when they headed for the train station she caught a taxi out here and waited for them to come in.”
The clock struck to in the morning, and Betty looked at her daughters as they slept on the couch. “What are you going to do with us before you go?”
“We’ll make sure we have a chance to leave without interruption – best you not worry about that for an hour or so.” With that, George turned back and talked to Lily, as Betty tried to loosen the rope around her wrists.
“Time to wake up girls,” Lily said as she shook Natasha by the shoulders. She opened her eyes and looked at the clock.
“Four o’clock – what are you going to do now?” she asked as Heidi shook her head. She looked at her mother as she slept in the chair and George as he slept at the table.
“I need to take care of you two properly,” Lily said as she held a gun in front of Heidi and Natasha. “Not a sound – both of you follow me.”
The girls stretched their legs and saw the ropes had been removed from her ankles. Standing up, they walked in front of Lily as she picked up a holdall and made them both climb the stairs.
“Go to the toilet, Heidi,” she said as they reached the landing and undid the rope around the younger girl’s wrists. As Heidi sat herself down, Lily asked her sister which room was Heidi’s, and Natasha pointed at the door at the end of the landing. “Excellent – we’ll go there,” she said as Heidi flushed and walked back out.
“Can I take my boots off?” she asked as Lily closed the door behind them. As she nodded, Heidi sat on the bed and with her feet pulled her boots off, placing them on the floor. As she did this, Lily untied the rope from Natasha’s wrists.
“We need to make sure you two cannot raise the alarm,” Lily said as she opened her bag and drew out a length of rope, “and I thought you would be more comfortable in your own room. Natasha – you’re going to tie your sister up.”
“I’m what,” Natasha said as she stared at the armed women.
Lily looked at Heidi’s bed, which had a metal headboard and footstead. “Take this length of rope, tie one end around your sister’s left wrist, then one end of this other length of rope around her other wrists. She will then lie on her back while you secure the loose ends to the bedstead. She’ll be happier if a family member does it, I suspect.”
“It’s all right, Nattie, I was wondering when this would happen. Do what you have to do.” Saying this, Heidi held her hands out and stood still as Natasha looped the rope around each of her wrists and tied it tightly in place. She then sat down on the bed, swung her legs round and lay back so that her head was lying on some pillows near the head of the mattress. Natasha took each wrist in turn and secured the loose end of the rope to the top of the bedstead, leaving about two feet of rope on each side.
“Now,” Lily said as she took more rope from the bag, “Do the same with her feet = one ankle to each side of the footboard, as tightly as you can.”
Natasha looped the rope around Heidi’s left ankle, over the sock, and pulling it to one side she secured it to the footboard. Walking round, she repeated the process so that Heidi was spread-eagled and literally bound to the bed.
“Now what,” the young girl said as she looked at the knots holding her wrists in place. In answer, Lily walked over to her chest of drawers, took out a pair of white ankle socks and rolled them together into a ball. She also reached into the bag and drew out a black silk scarf, which she rolled into a band.
“Open wide, Heidi,” she said as she walked back over to the bed, and as the girl opened her mouth Lily gently shoved the socks into her mouth, followed by the scarf tied into and around her mouth with the knot to the side of her head. Heidi moved the ball of cotton around in her mouth, then lay back and looked at her sister.
“Is this what you’re going to do to me?” Natasha asked as she looked at Lily. The young woman shook her head, said “no, I have something else in mind for you,” and taking Natasha by the arm she led her out of the room, leaving Heidi’s handbag on the table beside her bed.
Betty sat up with a start, and looked round in the dim dawn light. George was stretching in his chair, but there was no sign of his partner or her daughters. She began to sob as she called out “Natasha, Heidi, where are you?”
“Oh, I expect Lily is taking care of them – there should eb someone here in a little while to pick us up.” George looked at the clock, which read five thirty. “We need to make sure we can go quietly, however.”
“Where are they?” Betty demanded as Lily walked back into the main room.
“Don’t worry, Betty, your daughters are in their bedrooms. George, why don’t you take care of Betty while I tidy up here – the bag is in the main bedroom?”
“Thank you, Lily,” George said as he knelt down and untied the woman’s ankles, “Betty, will you come with me please?” Taking her by the arm he led her out of the room and up the stairs as Lily started to collect cups from the previous evening.
“May I see them?” Betty asked as they reached the top of the stairs. “That is Natasha’s bedroom there.” George nodded his head, and opened the door to allow Betty to go in.
Natasha was lying on her bed, with her white bomber jacket lying on the floor. Underneath she was wearing a sleeveless black cropped top, but her bare arms were pinned behind her back with rope around her wrists and her waist. Rope had also being wrapped around her upper arms and chest, as well as her thighs and calves, and her ankles wree crossed and bound before being pulled behind her and attached to her wrists with a short length of rope. Finally, a large patterned scarf had been pulled tightly into her mouth, and securely knotted at the base of her neck. She whimpered as she looked up and saw her mother standing there, and Betty just whispered “I’m sorry, Nattie” as George led her out.
“Mmm!” Heidi called out as her mother and George walked into the room. She pulled at the ropes around her wrists, and then let her head fall back onto the cushions. “Let’s go,” George said quietly as he led Betty out of the room and into her own room.
“Lie face down on yoru bed please,” George said as he took a length of rope from the bag and doubled it over. Betty lay down, and George placed her wrists in the small of her back, crossing them as he did so. He then looped the rope around her wrists, pulled the loose ends through the eye and pulled tightly before methodically binding her wrists tightly together. Taking a second length of rope, he did the same just above her elbows so that her arms almost touched, then passed a longer length under her waist and used it to secure her arms to her chest and back.
“I suppose it would be out of order to ask you not to tie my legs tightly,” Betty said as she looked over her shoulder and watched George doubling over another length of rope. “I’m afraid I can’t oblige,” he said as he crossed her ankles and wrapped the rope around the leather of her boots, “but I won’t lift your skirt up when it comes to securing your legs.” True to his word, when he finished tying the rope off around her ankles he passed a long length of rope under her legs near her waist, shuffled it down and then pulled it tightly so that her skirt was held against her legs. The process was repeated below her knees, so that her skirt looked as if it was a sausage skin around Betty’s lower body. Finally, George took a long length and passed it around and between each of the bands around her body.
“None of us are going anywhere fast, are we?” Betty said as she looked over and watched George taking a couple of items from a drawer in her dresser. Walking back, he gently held Betty’s head jup as he stuffed a pair of panties into her mouth, then wrapped a pair of tights around her head to secure them into place before placing a pillow under her head.
“Lily and I thank you for the company last night, but we’ll be leaving now Betty. Say goodbye to your daughters for us.” The sound of a car pulling up outside the house could be heard. George closed the door, and Betty listened as the sounds of footsteps on the stairs, then doors opening and closing came through before a silence of the early dawn fell over the house.
In her room, Heidi had listened as well to the sounds of the intruders leaving, and started to look around to see if there was any way she could get herself free. The man who called himself George had come in before they left and checked the ropes that held her feet to the foot of the bed, but otherwise she had been left alone. When nothing suggested itself to her, she fell to looking around the room and trying to relax, despite the muffled sounds she could hear from her mother and sister as they tried to talk to each other. After a while, she looked over to her bedside table where Lily had left her handbag, and saw that not only was the tope open, but her mobile phone was near the top.
Glancing up at the rope around her right wrist, she tried to probe with her fingers to see if there was any give, before an idea struck her. She realised that there was actually some slack now in the ropes holding her ankles to the foot of the bed, so she slowly pushed her body up until the ropes went taut. In this way, she managed to gain some slack in the ropes around her wrists, and she slowly leaned over to her side as the rope around her left wrists tightened. This gave her enough give in her left wrists to reach over and gently pull her handbag over until it fell on the bed, spilling the contents on top of her duvet.
Falling back onto the bed, she moved back down a little to allow her to reach her phone, which had fallen near where her head had been. Managing to activate the device, she pressed the “9” key three times before she allowed her body to relax and her head hit the pillow next to the phone.
“Emergency, which service please?”
“Hlpm, m td p”
“I’m sorry, which service please?”
“M TD P N GGD – HLP M!!”
“Caller, I cannot understand you. Which service do you require?”
“I cnt spk – m ggd!!!”
“Caller, listen carefully. Can you speak freely?”
“All right, I want you to grunt once for yes and two for no. Are you currently prevented from speaking?”
“Are you unable to move?”
“Are you alone?”
“Nnn – thrs thr f s”
“All right, Caller, stay on the phone – we’re tracing your call and help will be there shortly.”
“I thought you said we were going to do a job here?” Lily said as she, George and the group headed up the A69.
“Nah – we have a job tonight north of the border. I just said that to get the police off our tail. By the time they realise what we did, we’ll be finished and move on again.”
“And just how are you going to make sure the police hear our false trail – we left them fairly immobile, remember?”
“True, Lily, true – which is why I took the liberty of, shall we say, cutting the younger daughter a little slack….”
It was mid afternoon, and Betty and her daughters were sitting talking to the police when the front door opened. The policeman stood up as a tall, grey haired man walked in, dressed in a grey suit and blue shirt, while the woman with him was wearing a white blouse, black jacket and skirt and black shoes.
“Mrs Fordson?” the man said as he approached the three women and sat down, “My name is DCS Grayson, and this is DS Wayne. We’re from the Serious Crime Squad – I need to talk to you about George Simpson.”