To say Maggie was angry was putting it mildly. She was absolutely, totally livid, and she felt she had every right to be. She only nipped in to buy an Easter present for her boyfriend, and now here she was, stuck in a cleaner’s closet and thumping like mad on the door with the heels and soles of her very expensive tan brown leather boots, trying to call out and raise the alarm.
She knew she wasn’t the only one in this predicament - her friend Belinda was out there somewhere, and she was concerned for her as well. But right at this moment, at this time, she wanted out, and she was determined to do so, given how she had ended up in here....
“... and write it on it ‘From Your Little Hunnybunny.’”
Belinda looked up at Maggie, her mouth in a wide grin. “Hunnybunny - when did you get to that stage?”
“Oh, just shut up and ice the message,” Maggie said as she looked out onto the high street, watching the people walk by. She had nipped into the chocolate shop run by Maggie during her lunch break on this Maundy Thursday, looking to get that last present before she disappeared into the Yorkshire countryside for a long, quiet and very private Easter weekend holiday.
She ran her hand through her strawberry blonde hair as she turned to look at Belinda, who was wearing a grey woollen jersey dress with a skirt that consisted of three tiered and layered layers, like the ra-ra skirt her mother had worn in her younger days. Her legs were encased in a pair of warm grey woollen tights, and her black leather prate-style boots came up to just below her knees with the cuffs turned down.
“And - there we are,” Belinda said as she turned round and showed Maggie the decorated egg. “Just keep it flat for the next hour or so, and it will be just fine. Can I help you, Sir?”
A man had just walked into the shop, with short dark hair that was greying at the temples, and dressed in a grey suit with a white shirt underneath. “I hope you can,” he said as he turned and looked at the two ladies. “Are you the owner of this establishment?”
“I am,” Belinda said as Maggie picked up the egg and started to make the way to the door. “Excellent,” the man said as he grabbed Maggie by the arm, turning her round and placing the revolver he had just drawn from his suit pocket next to her face, “then, please, lock the front door and out the Closed sign up. Now.”
“What the hell,” Maggie said as she looked at her friend, who was standing there, her face paling as she slowly walked round from the counter. The man turned, taking Maggie with him, and watched as she locked the front door, turned the sign against the glass to CLOSED and pulled the blinds down.
“All right, I’ve done what you asked,” she said as she looked at him, “now let my friend go - you can take what you want.”
“Oh, I don’t want anything here,” the man said with a light laugh, “My business is with the shop next door, but I need to access it through this establishment. First, however, I need to make sure you two fine ladies are kept out of the way. I had hoped there would only be one, but no matter. What is behind that door?”
Maggie looked towards the small wooden door that the man was pointing at. “It’s just a small store cupboard,” Belinda said in a strange, quiet voice. “Why?”
“No reason,” he said as he pushed Maggie over towards the counter. “Put the egg down, dear, and then both of you raise your hands and stand where I can see you.”
As Maggie raised her arms, the hem of her grey scoop necked cardigan rose from the top of her dark grey wool skirt, the lighter criss cross pattern shining in the dim light that came past the blinds. She had a long silk oblong scarf tied loosely around her neck, the material adorned with a pattern of green and brown swirls that if it was folded out showed a country scene, and her dark tights were visible between the hem of her skirt and the tops of her tan leather boots.
“All right,” the man said with a smile as he reached into his jacket pocket and took out several folded lengths of cord, “What’s your name, shop owner.”
“Bbbbb - Belinda.”
“All right, Belinda,” he said as he tossed a length of cord to her, “shake that out, and then tie your friend’s wrists together behind her back. You,” he said as he pointed the gun at Maggie, “can help by slowly, slowly moving your hands behind your back and crossing your wrists. Make sure it’s good and tight as well.”
“Oh god, oh god, oh god,” Belinda said as she shook the cord out, her hands shaking as she did so. “Just keep calm, Bindy,” Maggie said as he moved her hands behind her back, “Don’t give him any reason to hurt either of us. Just do as he asks, and we’ll get out of this in one piece.”
“Sensible advice,” he said as Maggie felt the cord around her wrists, pulling them together as Belinda passed the thin length around them, then between her arms before tying it off. “Are you all right,” Belinda said as she held her friend, watching as Maggie nodded her head.
“Now her elbows,” the man said as he passed Belinda another length of cord, “Pass it round her arms and do it just below her elbows.”
Maggie let out a deep breath as she felt her chest been pulled out as her arms were drawn together behind her back. Belinda could not get them to touch, but she tied the rope so that Maggie could not move them apart, winding the cords around the lengths between them to tighten them further. She knew the man watching them would do this if she did not, and she did not want Maggie to be hurt.
“It’s all right,” Maggie said as she looked over her shoulder, “I can cope with this.”
“All right, Belinda,” the man said as he watched the two girls, “Go and open that door - show me what is inside.” He watched as Belinda walked to the door and opened it, showing the small space inside with the cleaning materials stacked on one side.
“Excellent,” he said as he looked at Maggie. “You - walk in there and sit on the floor.”
“In there,” Maggie said as she looked at the dusty floor. “But I get claustrophobia, please don’t...”
“I said,” the man replied, his tone changing as he looked at the two girls, “Get in there and sit down - unless you want to be hogtied on the floor here.”
“No, no - I’m going,” Maggie said as she walked forward, passing Belinda and entering the closet before turning round and sitting herself on the floor. “Now, Belinda,” he said as he handed her yet another length of cord, “tie your friend’s ankles together in front of her, nice and tightly.”
“I’m sorry, Maggie, I’m so so sorry,” she wept as she knelt down and passed the cord around her friend’s ankles, pulling them tightly together before passing around them several more times. Maggie could see the cord biting into the patent leather, white against brown, as Belinda cinched the ropes by passing it between her legs and then tying the knot off behind her ankles. She tried moving her legs apart and up and down, but there was no give, the only sound the squeak of the leather as her boots rubbed against each other.
“Now her legs,” the man said as he passed Belinda a further length, “Just below the knees, and cinch it as you have the others.” As Maggie watched her friend tying her legs together, the cord visible over her tights, she saw the man walk round behind the counter and look under the work surface.
“Very good work, Belinda,” he said as he stood behind the frightened woman and looked down at Maggie. “Now, I want you to kneel down on the floor, hands behind your head, and don’t move.”
As she watched Maggie slowly drop to her knees and put her hands together behind her head, she heard the man putting the gun down and walking towards her. “Nice scarf,” he said as he squatted in front of her, “Mind if I borrow it?”
“Do I have a choice,” Maggie said as he leaned over and removed it from round her neck, showing her bare skin under the cardigan.
“No. No, not really,” he replied as he pulled it taut in his hands. “Open wide now.”
“No, I’ll be quiet, conmmmfdmmgdmfgmgdfgm,” Maggie said as he wound the scarf round her head, pulling it deep into her mouth with each of the two passes, before pulling it tightly and tying the ends together at the side of her head. As he stood up, her eyes followed him as he picked up a roll of grey tape from the shelf to her side.
“Have fun,” he said with a smile as he closed the door and locked it, leaving Maggie in darkness as she tried to hear what was happening outside, the only sounds been mumbling and the ripping of something....
How long had passed since then, Maggie wasn’t sure, but there had been silence outside for some considerable time. She had finally had enough of sitting quietly, hoping for a knight in shining armour, or at least a cop, to come along, and had decided to take matters into her own hands. After lying on her back, and ignoring the way her arms were digging into her back, she had started to kick at the door around the lock, hoping she would be able to get it open somehow, anyhow.
Finally, she let out a grunt of relief as the door gave way, splinters of wood falling to the floor as it swung noiselessly out. She could hear a moaning sound from outside the door, but there was no sign of Belinda.
Maggie started to rock herself on her back, building up momentum until she was finally able to force herself into a seated position. Looking round the now illuminated closet, she could see the shelves on one side, and a bare brick wall on the other. Bringing her knees up to her chest, she pushed back with her bound legs, sliding across the floor towards the bare wall with a look of grim determination in her eyes.
Her jaw was aching, the cloth filling her mouth heavy with the saliva it had absorbed, but Maggie did not let that distract her. Instead, she let her anger at her humiliation and capture be her focus as she inched slowly towards the wall, stopping as her back rested against it and she stopped to try and recover her composure.
“Rgttt,” she mumbled to herself as she planted her feet firmly on the floor, pushing up as she used her arms to help her inch her way up the wall. It was a long, slow, laborious process, and she could feel the sweat on her body as she inched her way into a standing position, stopping as she felt the cold wall against her aching arms and her legs straightened.
Pushing herself off the wall, Maggie stood for a moment, steadying herself as she looked at the open doorway. Finally, she took as deep a breath as she could and hopped a short distance to the open space.
Taking another deep breath, she pushed herself off the ground and jumped/hopped towards the door.
With each little jump she let out a grunt of some sort, with each little hop she inched closer and closer to the open door. She could hear the moaning more clearly now, a sobbing, gulping sound that filled Maggie with dread as she inched closer, closer to the door.
Finally, she reached the open doorway and looked down on the floor between there and the counter, to see Belinda lying face down on the ground. Her arms were arranged like a box behind her back, and taped from elbow to elbow, a grey cylinder against her grey dress.
There was also bands of tape around her upper arms, thighs, calves and ankles, her boots squeaking as she tried to move her legs apart while lying there.
Maggie watched her friend roll over onto her back, noting the grey covering on her mouth and lower jaw and the way her cheeks were puffed out. “Mgeee? Thnkgd, othnkgd,” she moaned, her eyes red with the tears that had trickled out of them.
Belinda rolled onto her other side and looked to the far side of the store, where a second door that Maggie knew led to the storeroom and rear entrance was swinging open.
“Llrt, lrrtt.” Maggie took a deep breath and allowed herself to fall forward, silencing a moaned curse as her knees hit the wooden floor next to Belinda. From there, she manoeuvred herself into a seated position and shuffled over so that her hands were next to Belinda’s head.
“Rlofr,” she mumbled as she looked over her shoulder, watching as Belinda moved her head within reach of her fingers. Maggie started to rub at the edge of the tape covering her mouth, hoping that the combination of sweat and tears would be enough to loosen the tape a little, just enough to enable her to be able to grip one tiny corner between two fingers.
“Kpgng,” Belinda mumbled as, after some considerable time, Maggie succeeded in doing just that, peeling the corner slowly away as Belinda closed her eyes. “Hldstl,” Maggie mumbled as she slowly, slowly peeled away the grey pad, revealing Belinda’s lips until she left it hanging by the side, her fingers probing as Belinda opened her mouth to allow her to draw out the white handkerchief that had been stuffed in.
“Uh.... uh.... Oh thank god, thank god,” Belinda finally said as she panted, struggling to get her breath back after so long silenced. Maggie allowed herself to lie on the floor, exhaustion finally driving out the adrenaline fuelled rush she had experienced as the tears started to flow down her cheeks as well.
“Police - is there anyone in here?”
Belinda looked to the open doorway, calling out “Help - please, we’re tied up in here and my friend is gagged.” She looked at the two uniformed constables that walked in, crying for joy now as they ran over and started to release them, helping them to sit up before starting.
“We found the jeweller unconscious next door, and he said the masked robber had come from here,” the officer said as he removed the soaking scarf from Maggie’s mouth. “Are you both all right?”
“Yes, we’re fine, if sore,” Maggie said after she had worked her jaw. “Who was that man anyway?”
“We think it was a guy called George Simpson,” the other officer said as she peeled the tape away from Belinda’s arms. “He’s meant to have been abroad, but must have slipped back into the country for a while.”
As she stood up and rubbed her wrists, Maggie saw her egg, lying on the counter. As she stumbled over, she looked at the message for the first time.
“You spelt his name wrong - do you think...”