The department store was packed out as Helen and Susan Perkins walked round the store, both wrapped up in their long coats. They were buying some last minute presents for friends, and talking as they stopped to look at the Santa’s Grotto that stood at the back of the store.
“It’s being a long time since you took me to one of those, Mum,” Susan said as she watched the excited children queuing to sit on Santa’s knee and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
“A very long time – besides, we’ve had enough excitement at holidays before,” Helen said as she smiled. A few years before, they had been involved one Halloween in a robbery at their home that had never been fully explained, and that had been quite enough excitement for both of them.
They walked off, not noticing the way that Santa had been watching both of them. This was his last day on the job, as it was Christmas Eve, and he needed to leave the area fairly quickly. He turned to the young girl working as an elf.
“Can you see if Jack’s ready – I need to take a break,” he said and watched as the girl walked quickly off, one eye on the mother and daughter all the time as they looked over the stacks.
“Hurry up with the drinks, mum – I’ve got the tree dressed.”
Susan stepped back and admired her handiwork. The tree stood in a silver bucket against the wall, while a small pile of presents stood to one side in front of the fire. She crossed her bare arms and nodded approvingly as Helen came back in with two mugs of coffee.
“Very nice, Susan – I just need to put the holly wreath on the door now.” She pointed to a green wreath sitting on their tan leather sofa. “Let me have my drink and then I’ll hang it up.”
She looked at her daughter standing there. Susan was planning to go onto a party at a friend’s house, and was wearing a sleeveless black roll neck sweater with a wide leather belt around her waist, a mid-length white skirt, fishnet stockings and black leather shoes. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, with a light brown scarf tied on to hold it in place.
Helen drained her cup and placed it on the coffee table. “Right,” she said as she picked up the wreath, “Let’s put this up.” Walking out of the room, she made her way to the front door, and opened it, stepping out to hang the holly over the door handle. As she made one last adjustment, she stopped dead as a black leather gloved hand went over her mouth, and a male voice said “Ho, ho, ho – hands on your head and go back inside.”
“That done, then, m….” Susan said as she heard the room door open and turned round. Her mother was there, but behind her with his gloved hand over her mouth was…..
“Oh yes little girl – and I’m here to get my presents from you.” As he said this, he brought a small handgun round and pointed it at Susan. “Put your hands on your head and don’t move.”
“Oh God, not today,” she whispered as she did what Santa said. He smiled through his white beard and pushed Helen towards her daughter. “Now then, you both do as I say and we’ll be just fine. I just want your money and some food, understand?”
The two women nodded as he put a large red sack on the chair. They were struck by the incredulity of the situation – a man, dressed as Santa Claus with the red suit, black wellington boots and beard, holding them at gunpoint?”
“Who are you?” Helen asked as Santa rummaged in his sack.
“Me – I’m Santa’s Helper taking his place for one night,” he said as he pulled out a pack of foam balls, such as a young child might play with. He also took out a number of strips of white cloth, which he laid on the arm of the chair.
“Now then, I’m going to give you a present, and I want you to do what I tell you to do. Understand?”
The two women nodded as Santa threw them both one of the large foam balls, about the size of a tennis ball. “I want you to put that in your mouth,” he said as he pointed the gun at them, “All the way in so that nothing shows when you put your lips together. I also want them to stay in there – now do it.”
Helen looked at her daughter, who was shivering slightly, and said “At least this time we’re both awake,” as she pushed the foam ball into her mouth. Susan followed her mother’s example. Remembering that last time she had no idea what had happened before she had woken up to see her mother bound and gagged opposite her.
“That’s better,” Santa said as he took three strips of white cloth in his gloved hand. “Little girl, come over here.” Susan walked slowly over as he held the strips out.
“Take these, and use them as I tell you. Go back to your mother, put two strips on the sofa behind you, and use the third to keep that ball in your mother’s mouth. Make no mistakes, now, or Santa will not be happy.”
Susan looked over at her mother as she stood there looking back in return. Susan’s brown hair was starting to turn grey, a sign of past experiences as much as age, and she was still wearing her purple round necked jacket with brass buttons and gold trim on the edges. Her black leather skirt came to just above her knees, with her patterned tights covering her legs between the skirt hem and the tops of her knee length leather boots. Walking over, she saw Helen nod as she turned around and allowed Susan to pull on of the strips tightly over her mouth, tying the ends together at the base of her neck.
“All right,” Santa said as he sat down, the gun still levelled at Susan and Helen, “Mummy, why don’t you put your hands behind your back, and let your daughter tie your wrists together?”
Helen glared at the intruder, her fists clenched, but she offered no resistance to Susan as she gently placed her mother’s arms behind her back, one forearm on top of the other, and used a second strip of cloth to bind her wrists together, keeping one eye on Santa the whole time. He nodded as she passed the cloth around and between her arms, pulling tightly and knotting ends together at the end.
“Now, help your mother to sit down on the floor, and tie her ankles together, there’s a good girl,” Santa said as he watched Susan. Helen sat herself down on the floor, her legs to one side, as Susan pulled her skirt down slightly and then passed the third length of cloth around Helen’s ankles. The leather of her boots squeaked as her ankles were pulled tightly together, and the soft cotton rubbed against them as Susan tied the knot. Helen tried turning her wrists round, but fear more than anything had made Susan make that binding very tight indeed.
“Very good job, little girl – now, I want you to kneel down beside your mother, and put your head down on the couch while I make sure you are nice and secure as well.”
Helen watched as Susan knelt on the floor beside her, and placed her head on the couch, turning so that she could look at her mother as Santa stood up and came over with the other three strips of cloth in his hand. He knelt behind Susan, took her wrists and crossed them in the small of her back, tying them tightly together before using another strip to bind her ankles. He took the third strip of cloth and pulled it over Susan’s mouth, causing her lisp to part slightly so that it held the foam ball tightly in her mouth, before knotting the ends together at the base of her own neck under her pony tail.
Susan lifted her head, and allowed herself to be turned round so that she was sitting next to her mother. They looked over as Santa left the room, and listened as they heard the sounds of him in the kitchen. He then came back in, placing a mug of steaming coffee and a plate of snack food on the coffee table, before looking at the two captive women.
“Don’t worry, I only want a few hours of rest and your money, nothing else,” he said as he removed the false beard and took off his padded jacket. Susan placed her head on her mother’s shoulder as they watched him remove his outfit, revealing a stocky man with greying hair in a shirt and trousers, looking at them as he pulled a pair of casual shoes out of his sack and slipped them onto his feet. Helen looked on – he recognised him from somewhere, but where?”
“If you’ll forgive me,” he said as he took up the cup and took a deep drink, “I’ve had a long day and I could do with a break. I’ll be on my way soon, don’t worry.”
The two women watched as he ate and drank, wondering what he meant by saying he would be on his way soon. Helen looked over at the wall clock – six o’clock.
The clock was showing ten o’clock when the intruder finally stretched and stood up. He had dosed off after the meal, watching the television, but neither Susan nor Helen had made any attempt at escape for fear they might wake him. Helen had remembered who he was and where she had seen him before, and knew how dangerous he could be.
He looked over and saw the look in Helen’s eyes. “You remember me now, don’t you?” he said with a smile, and Susan looked over at her mother. He sat forward on the chair and looked at his captives.
“My name is George Simpson,” he said, and Susan’s eyes widened as she recognised the name. “Some years ago, some friends and I robbed an estate agent in the area – and your mother was there, weren’t you?”
Helen nodded. It had been about six years ago, and she and two co-workers had been forced to open the safe after closing time before they had been taped and gagged to prevent them raising the alarm. He had been younger, and had dark brown hair, but she recognised the gang leader.
“You see, I’m visiting a few old haunts before I leave the country, and it was pure coincidence that I saw you with your daughter at the store I was working at. I still had your address – you had a lucky escape that day, dear.” He turned and smiled at Susan, who was remembering she had been late home that day having received a detention. “If you had been home on time, you would have joined mummy here at the office. Anyway, that’s all in the past.”
He stood up and brushed some crumbs off his shirt, before taking a heavy black coat out of the Santa sack. “I’ll leave you two alone now – have a happy Christmas.”
They watched him search through their handbags, taking cash and cards, before moving quickly out of the house and closing the door. Sitting there, listening to make sure that he had gone, Susan turned to her mother.
“R u ll rght?” she mumbled, and Helen nodded in reply. Susan started to shuffle herself round on her bottom, until she was facing her mother, then slid back towards the pile of presents. As she moved, Helen stretched her own legs out in front of her to try and relieve the cramp she was feeling.
Susan looked over her shoulder, scanning the pile and finally finding the one she was looking for. Picking it up. She wedged the thin parcel between two larger ones and started to pick at the wrapping. Helen watched, wondering what she was doing as Susan peeled away the bright silver paper, to reveal the edge of a new manicure set. Pausing for a moment, she gently opened the edge of the set and drew out a pair of small nail scissors.
“S tht m prsnt?” Helen mumbled, and Susan nodded as she gripped the ends of the scissors in her fingers, before starting to slide back. “Trn rnd, mm,” she said, and Helen shuffled round to hold her wrists out while Susan gently nipped at the cloth with the blades.
“Quite an ordeal,” DCI Grayson said as he closed his notebook. It was Boxing Day, and he had called on Helen and Susan to get some details of what happened.
“What do you think he was after,” Helen said as she cradled the mug of coffee in her hand.
“I’m not sure, but he seems to be revisiting old haunts – I think I need to look at some of his history and see if I can second guess him. Thank you, ladies, you’ve been a big help.”
He stood up and made his way to the door. “Oh – one more thing.”
“Happy new Year,” he said as Susan showed him out.