Portrait of A Lady - Chapter 4
As I sit here, reminiscing about the past and how I came to be the person I am now, I am struck with how many people we actually touched, and how many live shave been changed. The benefit and curse of hindsight is you can see how things progressed – and how regrets could have been avoided.
After a few months in our new home, we had established good relationships with many of the oversight bodies in our profession, including the Burglars Association. They were told the full story – absolute disclosure is a sign of good faith for them, and they knew my father well – and offered assistance with any “tiding up” as they put it. A fact I thanked them for but declined at that point – but would return to them on later.
As a sign of their good faith, they asked if Robert would conduct some final assessments on a new recruit they had – a man who showed much promise, but needed a few more lessons. He was a small, wiry man, but very good with electronics and alarms. We met, and I invited him to join Madeline, Robert and I on a visit we were planning to a small manor house in the country. We had a policy in those early days that one of the four of us would remain at the office when we undertook a visit, and this was Sandra’s turn.
“Inside – move”
Robert pushed the two frightened women in front of him into the office, their hands raised as they marched forward. Maddie and Madame X came up behind, with the fourth member of the gang dealing with the security system. They had entered an hour or so previously, and had finished looking through the upstairs room when the two women had returned rather unexpectedly.
All four of them were wearing grey boiler suits and gloves, with John Major face masks covering the front of their faces. The new arrivals barely had time to remove their coats before they were surprised. Both were in their early twenties, with chestnut coloured hair. The older had asked who they were, but the sight of the shotguns silenced her as she raised her hands, the sleeves of her grey blouse falling slightly as she did so.
Maddie cleared the top of a large Mahogany desk with her arm, as Robert grabbed the older girl and told her to put her hands behind her back. He quickly bound her wrists together, while Madame stood with her hand around the younger girl’s arm. As Robert made his captive sit on the desk, the other man came in and placed his bag on the floor.
“Now, dear girl,” Madame sat as she stared into the younger girl’s eyes through a pair of horn rimmed glasses, “Do you know the combination to the safe?”
“Yes,” she said quietly as she watched the man force her older sister to sit on the desk and start to tie her ankles together. “Very good,” Madame said in a voice that seemed to warm and calm the frightened girl at the same time. “The combination, if you please?”
She heard her sister grunt and looked over as a knotted cloth was pulled into her mouth, gagging her as she was forced to lie on her stomach. In a nervous whisper, she recited a sequence of numbers to the masked woman, who then made her recite them backwards. As she was force dot sit in a wooden chair, and her wrists pulled behind the back of the chair, she felt the rope through her yellow silk blouse and looked nervously up at her hogtied sister. The older girl nodded and grunted to show she was watching, while Maddie opened the safe and Robert continued to tie the younger girl up.
“Open wide” Robert said to the girl, and as she allowed herself to be gagged with a thick white silk scarf she watched the safe door swing open and Madame starting to sort through the contents. They sat for half an hour or so, watching as she carefully selected some items of jewellery while her companions searched downstairs. During that time, they both looked round and watched everything; taking silent note s they did so. Eventually, she sealed her bag and walked over to the two bound girls, pausing for a moment to stroke their hair as they looked at her.
“Thank you for co-operating,” was the last thing she said before they left, turning off the lights and plunging the room into darkness. They listened to the sound of a vehicle leaving, before the older girl started to try and push the gag out of her mouth. Eventually she managed to ease the knot out from between her lips, panting as she said “Are you all right?” to her sister. She saw the nod of the head in the gloom, before saying “stay calm – I’m going to try and get free. I swear, I will not allow this to happen to us again.”
Two hours later, the four were sitting in the warehouse with Sandy, checking their gains and talking amongst themselves.
“You did a fantastic job on the alarms,” Robert said as he clapped his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. “I see no reason why I can’t recommend full membership for you now.”
“Indeed,” Madame said as she sat down, “although you need to find a soubriquet to use – Bill just does not strike the right note.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Bill said as he put his glass down, “and I think I will play to my strengths. I’ve decided to be known as The Electrician.”
“To your future then,” Maddie said as she raised a glass.
That particular visit has been in my mind recently, ever since I started to become aware of my good and trusted rival, Lady C. Could she possibly be one of those two women we met then? I suspect I will find out some day, but not today.
As I established my business interests, it became more and more obvious that I would need more staff. I had only worked so far with those I had trusted, or had recommended to me, so I decided to take a similar tack, asking my friends and those I had come to trust to point me towards various people. I also started to cultivate friendships with those my Father had told me it would be useful to know. At this point of time I had not taken up the role I currently fill, in terms of been a planner rather than a practitioner – I still enjoyed the thrill of the event, and wanted to be a part of it wherever possible. With Madeline, Sandra and Robert, however, I was prepared to allow them a leadership role.
Especially Robert – I did not see it happening, and neither did he, but it was becoming apparent to the others that we were forming a very strong attachment to each other. I have never been one to express my emotions and feelings openly, but a night came when Robert and I – well, this is not the place to write of that time. Suffice to say we became extremely close, for a short while.
What we did not know, or chose not to know, was that our past would eventually catch up with us and that things were about to change dramatically for all of us. The first was a small thing, one I had wondered about for some time as I had watched our work progressing – and it was Sandra that was the catalyst for that.
“Shir... Madame, can I speak to you for a minute?”
Madame looked up from her desk and laid her pen down. “Of course you can, Sandra,” she said as she stood up and walked round, taking a seat in a large leather armchair and indicating that Sandy should sit down. As Sandy took her seat, her long brown leather skirt squeaking as she did so, Madame X could see there was something on her mind.
“How long have we known each other now?”
“Thirteen years – my god, has it been that long?”
“Exactly- and I think I have learned a lot from you, just as you have learned a lot from me. I – I want you to know that before I tell you what I am about to.”
“Sandra, is there a problem?”
“Not as such, no – I am afraid I have been asked if I would take on a position in the BA, heading up their training unit. I don’t want to leave you, any of you, but it is too good an opportunity to...”
Madame stood up, walked over and sat next to Sandy. “My dear friend, I am not going to stand in the way of your decisions. I only ask that you remember your friends here – and if you ever wish to come back, we will have a place for you.”
The two women stood up and embraced. “Sandy, you were there for me so many times – I want to be there for you now,” Madame X said as Sandy started crying. “Thank you, Shirley,” she whispered as they hugged and then stood back.
“I only ask you join us for one last visit – there is a rather well known and exclusive jewellery store that I have been looking at for some time, and I need two teams for this visit. Will you join me – join us one last time?”
“Of course,” Sandy said with a smile.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, our target is the establishment run by a Mrs Daphne Cotton, a jeweller of some note and renown. My sources tell me that she is in possession of a particularly large collection of gems at this time, and it will provide a great deal of funding for us for some time.”
Madame X looked round the group at the table. On one side were sat Sandy and Robert, while on the other Maddie with a recent recruit, a tall thin man called Jack that had come from the BA in recent weeks. This was to be his first visit for his current employers, and he was keen to make a good impression.
“Mrs Cotton lives in the outskirts of the town,” Madame continued as she projected a slide of a woman in her mid-forties, dressed in a Bohemian style as she was walking to a car. “She has been divorced for some time, and lives with her two daughters, Janet and Helen, as well as her mother.” The slide changed to two young women dressed in short skirts and tops, and then an older grey haired woman in a dark coat. “Janet, the oldest, works in a clothes shop in a nearby shopping centre while Helen is in the sixth form at her school. Agnes, Daphne’s mother, is a pillar of the local community by all accounts.
“Daphne’s store is in the centre of the town, accessible by the front door or from a courtyard at the rear. The courtyard is walled in, with a security fence, but the gate is old and can be forced if need be. As a rule, she does not open at weekends, but has been known on occasion to work inside the shop alone on a Saturday – stock taking, book keeping, that sort of thing.”
Robert leaned back in his chair. “So, how are we going to avail ourselves of her goods?”
“By striking at her weak spot,” Madame continued as she projected a slide of the four women together, “Her family. Madeline?”
“We have arranged for a letter to be sent to her, informing of a tax audit a week today. From our observations, she will prepare in the shop on the Saturday, and leave early to do so. Rather unfortunately, the water board have also picked this week to do some work on the street outside their house.”
“Actually, Jack, this one is pure coincidence. We have, however, arranged for one of our associates to be a member of the work crew, and he will inform us when Daphne leaves on the Saturday morning.”
“At that point,” Madame X continued, “You, Robert and Madeline will proceed in an unmarked white van to the front of the house and gain entry. If our information is correct, all three of her family will still be in the house at that time – you will secure them and ensure no further visitors are expected.
“Madeline, you will be known as Miss Three, Jack Mister Two and Robert Mister One. Robert, you will lead and make sure all three of the women are together. Then you will take Agnes into the kitchen, while Madeline and Jack make sure the two girls are secured and silenced. Jack – use Agnes’ phone to take a picture of the two girls, and then leave Madeline with them.
“Robert – you will secure Agnes, and wait until 11 am, when you will call Daphne on her phone. Send the photo Jack takes, and urge Mrs Cotton to call home.”
Robert looked at Madame X standing there. “Where will you be?”
“By that time, Sandra and I will have gained entry to the rear yard. Inform Daphne that she has to allow us entry by the rear, or her family will suffer. Once we are in, I will talk to you and we will proceed to raid the shop. At that point, silence Agnes and await our arrival with Daphne.”
“At which point?”
“At which point, Sandra, we will make sure we can leave without been disturbed, and return here. Any questions?”
“There’s the signal.”
Robert started the engine and drove into the driveway of the house, while Maddie and Jack made their final preparations in the back. He stopped the van in front of the front door and climbed out, opening the side door to allow the other two to exit.
“Ready?” he said as they pulled the dark balaclavas over their heads. Maddie and Jack nodded as Robert stepped forward and rang the doorbell. They watched as the inner door opened and a female figure appeared behind the frosted glass.
“Mrs Cotton?” Robert said.
“No, I’m her mother. How can I help you?”
“I’m sorry, but it looks like the diggers out here may have hit a water main, and the stop cock for the street is in your back garden. May we come through and turn the water off?”
They heard an audible sigh, before the figure replied “Hold on – I’ll let you in.” The door opened on a grey haired woman, in a blue silk blouse and leggings with mid length boots, who raised her hands to her mouth as she looked at the three people standing there. Robert spoke again.
“Please, my dear, come in with us and don’t say a word.” As she slowly backed in, the three of them followed her, Maddie closing the two doors as they heard a young girl say “Gran, who was that at the do…” Robert smiled as he said “Good morning, Ladies. Will the two of you please join your grandmother in your main room, and we will explain what is going to happen today.”
Sandy dropped over the gate into the rear yard and caught the bag as Madame climbed over after her. They walked past the Mercedes parked at the rear and took up their position behind the heavy door. Sandy looked at her watch.
“Eleven – they should..” she said as the rear door opened and a woman looked out, holding a phone to her ear. “Yyyy – yes there are”, she stuttered as she stood to one side, allowing the two masked women to enter and handing Madame the phone. “Mister One? We’re in – we’ll call you when we’re ready for the next phase.” Turning the phone off, she put it in her pocket and said “Here’s the deal...”
“No I did not – and I want to see my daughters now!!”
The car engine was cooling down as Daphne demanded to see her family, while Madame and Sandy came from their hiding positions in the rear seats. Jack looked at Madame, who nodded as he took Daphne’s arm and led her into the house. She stopped short when she saw her two daughters on the couch, bound and gagged with tape as Maddie looked over them.
As she went into the kitchen, Maddie stood up and waited for the other two women to come back in. “How did it go,” she asked as Madame and Sandy came back in.
“Tolerably well – remove their gags for a moment,” Madame said as Maddie knelt in front of the girls and peeled the tape away. “Give them a drink of water,” she then said as she produced several lengths of rope from the bag on the chair.
“What are you going to do with us,” the older girl said as she looked up, the rope around her black boots squeaking. “We need to make room for your mother to relax,” was Madame X’s reply. “Make sure these two are secured on the floor, will you?”
Maddie and Sandy helped the two girls to sit back to back on the floor, and taking a length of rope each they bound their legs together above their knees, the rope crossing the bare flesh of both girls. As their wrists were tied down to the new bindings, Madame X picked up the roll of white tape and re-gagged both girls, before Sandy secured their upper bodies together.
They looked round as the kitchen door opened and they saw Daphne coming in, trussed around her arms and chest as Robert sat her on the couch the two younger girls had vacated. He quickly bound her ankles together over her burgundy leather boots, then her legs below her knees before standing up and saying “Madame – would you care to complete the task?”
As Madame X stepped forward and spoke to Daphne, Jack and Robert returned to the kitchen and picked Agnes up in her chair, carrying her in as the two girls watched their mother been gagged with a scarf and tape. As the light through the lace curtains in the window started to turn a deep red, the five armed intruders collected their belongings and headed out of the front door, into the van and off into the distance.
“A truly astounding and successful day’s work my friends.”
Madame X popped the champagne cork as a group of her office staff sorted, classified and bagged the jewels that they had taken that day. Filling their glasses, the five returned to the private chambers she had and sat down.
“Sandra, we are sorry to see you leave us, but take with us our best wishes for the future and your share of today’s profits.”
“Thank you. Madame,” Sandy said as she raised her glass. “I will stay in touch, I promise.”
As Robert and Maddie came over to talk to them, Jack slipped into a quiet corner. Taking out a cell phone, he dialled a number and said quietly “It’s her – tell him I will await his instructions.” Returning, he was surprised to see Robert with his arm around Madame X.
“It’s about time,” Maddie was saying, “so, when do you hope to have the happy day?”
“A year or two, I think,” Robert said with a smile, “there is a lot we still need to arrange.”
I confess, I do not believe I have never been happier than when Robert asked me to be his bride, and the young girl in me was starting to make plans, while still expanding and growing my business.
As he said, we had decided to wait a year or two – in fact until the new millennium, which would have marked ten years since my father’s death. As it was events were destined to take a very different turn...
December 31st, 1999
“Five... Four... Three... Two... One... HAPYY NEW YEAR!”
The club exploded into a frenzy of celebration as Madame and Robert quietly slipped out, Madame wrapping a coat over her dress as Robert undid the bow tie from around his neck.
“Quite an evening, Robert,” she said as they walked down the street, his arm around her shoulders. “Is the car waiting for us?”
“Jack should be bringing it round now,” Robert said, as the black Daimler slowly rounded the corner. Jack climbed out and waved tot eh approaching couple. As they walked forward, however, Robert stiffened.
“What’s wrong, Robert?”
“I’m not sure – a feeling, as if I am being watched. Probably nothing, and yet...”
Madame took Roberts head and pulled him down, kissing him as Jack looked on smiling. She heard the car door open, and looked up expecting to see Jack standing by it. Instead she recognised the tall, thin man with grey hair who stepped out. As did Robert.
He turned, pushing Madame X in one direction and screaming “RUN!!!!” as he pulled a Glock from inside his jacket and turned to face the unexpected arrival.
And so began the longest week of my life...
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