The music from the speakers was playing loud and clear through the windows, drowning out any attempts by the three women to try and raise the alarm. Not that they had much of a chance anyway, but their fear was mingled with anger at missing the Notting Hill carnival, and that more than anything was making them continue to try and call out through the thick scarves. If only it hadn’t been a tradition for them to have an open door into their kitchen before starting to serve refereshments…..
Celeste was making up the supplies on that particular Saturday morning. The August bank holiday always meant carnival for her and her family, so she had been up early preparing the juices and jerk chicken to share with anyone who came in. Anika, her elder daughter, was helping her other daughter Simone to prepare for the day ahead, and out in the street the music was starting to play on speakers all down the main road.
She mopped her brow as she finished off the last part of the marinating, and wiped her hands on a damp cloth. Walking into the corridor, she called up “Anika, are you and Simone ready yet?”
“Just about, mum,” Simone called out as Anika came down the stairs. A young woman in her early twenties, she was dressed for the warm autumn weather – a white sleeveless checked blouse which came just below her chest, blue denim shorts and black ankle boots. A blue scarf was tied over her head, and she was pulling a blue waistcoat over herself.
“Will you be warm enough in that?” Celeste asked with a smile on her face.
“Wait until you see little sis,” Anika replied. At eighteen, this was the first time Simone would be allowed to attend the carnival on her own, and she was determined to make the most of it.
How determined she was became clear as she walked down after her sister. She was wearing a blue boob tube and a very short white denim skirt, with strapped high heel sandals, and had a black scarf like those worn in Palestine tied around her neck.
“And just where do you think you are going young lady?”
“To the kitchen to see who comes in, mum.”
“All right then – the two of you keep an eye on things while I get myself ready.”
Anika and Simone looked at each other, and then walked into the main room of the house. The plan was to carry out the refreshments and chicken out to the front garden by midday, and as it was only ten-thirty they thought a few minutes in the front room would be enough.
IT was just as she put the glass to her lips, however, that Simone heard the bell go at the back door.
“I’ll go,” she said to her sister, and as she went into the kitchen Anika looked at of the window at the crowds starting to go past. It was a few minutes before she realised that she couldn’t hear any noise coming from the kitchen.
She found that funny – normally there would be all sorts of noise coming through – but thought nothing of it for a few minutes. As the time passed, however, she called out “Simone, are you all right in there?”
“Did you say something?” Celeste called down,
“Nothing, Mum,” Anika said as she walked into the corridor. She made her way into the kitchen and opened the door. The sight that greeted her there barely had time to register in her brain before she felt a hand clamping her shoulder and a voice whispered into her ear “Sit down and be quiet.”
It was another half hour before Celeste descended to the ground floor. Determined to show her daughters she still had “it”, she had found an old sleeveless one piece trouser suit, in black with a red trim, and had added red shoes and a red scarf tied around her throat as the finishing touches.
“Girls, have you anyone in the kitchen with you?” she called as she opened the door. One look gave the answer to that question.
Anika was sat on the floor, with her back against cupboard doors. Her wrists had been tied in front of her with what looked like one of those bands Celeste had to cut off deliveries at her shop, and her ankles were lashed together in the same way. Another tie was around her legs, which had been pushed up so that her wrists were further secured to her calves. The blue scarf that had been over her hair was knotted and bound into her mouth, and she looked at her mother wide-eyed through the dreadlocks that had fallen over her face,
Simone was sat in a kitchen chair. Plastic ties had been used to secure her wrists to the back of the chair, and her ankles were pulled up and secured to the legs. Her scarf covered the lower half of her face, but Celeste could see that her cheeks were bulging with something stuffed in there. She had been crying for a few minutes.
Three men were in the kitchen – two Caribbean and one white man – but all three were armed and looking at Celeste as she walked in.
“Good afternoon, Celeste,” one of the men said, “Please, come in and sit down for a minute.”
“What’s going on,” she said as she sat down and looked at her daughters.
“Well, we wanted to visit your shop, and as it’s closed up for carnival I’m afraid we need you to open for us. Do as we say, and your daughters get to see another carnival. Don’t and…”
“Celeste, are you in here,” a voice called, followed a minute later by a tall woman with an afro walking in. She was wearing a long floral print dress and black suede boots.
“Come on, Celeste, we need to……”
“Elizabeth, you’d better sit down. Today has not gone according to plan.”
The new arrival looked at the six people in the kitchen, and sat down.
“Is this a robbery?” she asked, and the three men nodded.
“But people are expecting some food and drink out front – if they don’t see it, they’ll come looking.”
“We know,” the white man said, “that’s why today is going to be a little bit different…..”
Over the next hour or so, passers-by saw both Celeste and Elisabeth setting up tables, and carrying food and drink out to the front garden. One or two people asked where the girls were, but Celeste just said they were trying to decide what to wear, and they nodded before moving on.
When they were done, Celeste placed a box with “honesty box” written on it on the table, and both women made their way to the kitchen.
The three men were still waiting as they came in.
“Sit down” one of them said to Elisabeth, and she sat herself on a chair. Her wrists were pulled behind the back of the chair, and she winced as a zip tie was secured around her wrists. Two more were used to secure her arms to the back of the chair.
As her ankles were secured together, she watched as a pair of handcuffs were snapped around Celeste’s wrists as they were held behind her, and a length of cloth stuffed into her mouth. Her blue scarf was tied over her mouth to keep the gag in place.
“Hey.” Another gang member called, “What are we going to use on her?”
The third man looked under the sink, and found a roll of electrical tape. Grabbing a napkin, Elisabeth was forced to open her mouth as the napkin was stuffed in, and then the tape wrapped around her head to hold that in place.
“Just sit tight,” the three women were told as the gang led Celeste out of the kitchen door.
The afternoon passed slowly for the three women, as the noise and sound of the carnival came into the house from the passing people and parade. All three had tried to struggle free, but when the zip ties had been used they had been pulled tightly enough to cut into any bare flesh, and they eventually gave that up as a bad job. Simone had cried herself to sleep, and she sat with her head slumped to one side. Anika had her head down as well, so she didn’t notice Elisabeth slowly trying to work the napkin out of her mouth,
As the evening sun began to set, making the kitchen grow dim, Anika suddenly jerked her head up as she heard “Ah, that’s better.”
Elisabeth had managed to force the gag out of her mouth, as the cloth and tape dangled around her neck.
“Anika, say nothing. Can you try and open the cutlery drawer with your feet, and tip it onto the floor? Just nod if you can, but be careful.”
Anika thought, then nodded and shuffled on her bottom towards the drawer that held the cutlery. Allowing herself to fall onto her back, she reached up with her feet and slowly pulled the drawer out, until it fell out of the holder and clattered on the floor.
Simone jerked her head up at the sound, and watched as Elisabeth said “Try to get ahold of the scissors with your fingers, and then shuffle over behind me.”
It took some effort, but Anika grabbed the scissors, rolled back onto her bottom and shuffled over until she was behind Elisabeth’s chair. Holding the blade of the scissor vertically, she began to saw at the ties around the older woman’s wrists.
Slowly, slowly she worked until the ties finally parted and Elisabeth brought her arms round as far as she could.
“Give me the scissors,” she said to Anika, and the younger woman did so. Holding the scissors in one hand, Elisabeth managed to cut the ties around Elisabeth’s wrists and legs, then gave her the scissors back to free herself totally.
Pulling the scarf out of her mouth, she gasped “thank you” before stumbling over to Simone and untying the scarf around her face. Simone then spat out a very large sponge as she was freed from the chair.
As Simone went to finish freeing Elisabeth, Anika ran out of the front door to raise the alarm. “What do you think they wanted with mum,” she asked as Elisabeth rubbed her arms.
“I don’t know, but let the police deal with it,” Elisabeth said as she hugged the younger daughter.
Half an hour later, the door of Celeste’s store was broken in by two policemen. Celeste was in the toilet, her hands handcuffed to the wash basin and her ankles tied with duct tape. More tape had been used to gag and blindfold her, but the first thing she said as the tape was peeled off was “My babies – tell me my babies are all right.”
“They’re fine” the placemen sad as a fireman appeared with bolt cutters, “Just relax. You’ll see them soon enough.”
Curiously, the honesty box that had been left outside was full when they retrieved it after the events of the day had passed. It seemed as if with no-one there, everyone felt the work was worth rewarding…