Respect and Response
A trading estate on the outskirts of London
The tall, thin brunette looked up from her desk as the door to her office opened, and her number two came in, her copper red hair falling on the shoulders of a fitted jacket that matched her knee length skirt.
“Penelope,” she said as she put her pen down, “are the team assembled?”
“They are indeed Madame – are you sure you wish to lead the visit today?”
“It’s all part of our changes, Penelope,” Madame X said as she stood up, “that I am seen to take the same risks as those who work for me from time to time. Come – I will brief you all now.”
She stood up and made her way from the office, Penny following as she smiled to herself.
The outskirts of Bristol
“Josie, are you going to be much longer?”
“Stop fussing Mum – I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Bob Simpson stood in the door that led to the front room of their house, and smiled as he said “You really are glad to see her back, aren’t you?”
“What do you think,” Louise said as she looked in the mirror. She was wearing a sleeveless dress with an abstract print in different colours, the skirt coming to just above her knees, the front cut to emphasise her chest. Although she was in her early forties, she still looked good, as she checked her shoulder length brown hair.
“I think you’re going to freeze to death in that outfit,” Bob said as he put her arms round her and kissed her neck, “but I love you in it.”
“Flatterer,” she said as their eighteen year old daughter Josie came down the stairs. She was wearing a simple grey sleeveless dress with a black collar, and cork wedge sandals, unlike her mother’s grey Grecian style sandals with three inch heels.
“Just remind me why you’re dressed for a summer’s day in the middle of winter?”
“Because it gets damned hot in that restaurant – so we’ll suffer the cold for a moment,” Josie said as she looked up the stairs. Her thirteen year old twin siblings, Bobby and Kerry, were looking down in their pyjamas.
“Are you sure you’re going to be all right with them,” Bob said as he looked at his mother.
“Oh come on,” Gracie said as she sat in the front room, “what do you think?” She was in her early sixties, grey haired and wearing a long skirt with matching short sleeved blouse, the material a very light blue with a floral print on it.
“Well then,” Bob said as he and the two other women put their coats on, “we’d better make a start. Let me go and...”
As he opened the door, however, he stepped backwards as three women walked in. They were dressed in dark jackets and skirts, with dark glasses, and had long blonde hair – as well as very real shotguns which they held in their gloved hands, as they looked at them through their dark glasses.
“Good evening, Mister Simpson,” one of them said in a deep rich voice that sounded calm and authoritative at the same time, “forgive the intrusion, but I must ask all of you to remain calm. Please, go and invite the younger generation to join us.”
As one of the women went upstairs, and made both Bobby and Kerry come down, the woman said “very slowly, all of you will walk into the front room and sit down, with your hands on your head. I promise you, so as we say and nobody needs to get hurt.”
“All questions will be answered, Mister Simpson,” she said as the family were made to go into the front room, Josie sitting with her brother and sister as the others sat on the longer couch.
“Now, here are the rules – we will be staying tonight, and in the morning Mister Simpson you will report to work and spend your day as normal – with one exception.”
“And that exception is?”
“After your last visit, you will be diverted to a location, and there you will do exactly what my associates tell you to do. In return, your family,” she said as she looked round, “will enjoy our tender care and attention. I trust I make myself clear without further explanation.”
“Oh god – you’re going to rob the armoured car.”
“That’s correct,” she said quietly as she looked at the twins, who were shivering. “To all intents and purposes, this is going to be a normal day for you – because if you do anything to indicate it is not, or to try and notify the authorities, we will know, and – well, let us not dwell on what may happen.”
“Bob, please,” Louise said as she looked at the armed women, “just do what she says.”
“Excellent advice Mrs Simpson,” the woman said as one of the other two went to open the door, and returned with a fourth woman, who was carrying two large duffle bags. “Now, why don’t you go with my associate here, and make a nice cup of tea for everyone, while we make sure your children are safe for the evening?”
“All right,” Louise said as she slowly stood up, one of the women going with her to the kitchen and watching as she put the kettle on.
“What are you going to do to them,” she said as she turned and stared at the well dressed women.
“Just make sure they can’t do anything to raise the alarm,” she said quietly, smiling as she said “don’t worry – it’ll be an adventure for them.”
As she carried the mugs of tea back in on a tray, she saw Bobby and Kerry sitting next to each other, their wrists taped together in front of themselves and their ankles taped as well, while a strip of the duct tape also covered their mouths.
“Excellent,” the woman said as she put the tray down, and then handed the mugs to Bob, Josie and Gracie, before she took one herself and sat down. “Now, as I said, so long as you do as we say, then everyone will be just fine. I am sure you don’t want any harm to come to your family, do you Mister Simpson?”
Bob shook his head as he looked at the twins, who were staring at the masked and armed women.
“Good – now, drink your tea. If the telephone rings, you can listen to the message on the answer phone.”
“Mum,” Josie said as she held her mug, “what’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know,” Louise said quietly, “but we need to stay calm for all our sakes.”
“Very good advice, Mrs Simpson, I trust you will follow it yourself,” she said as she looked round the room.
The clock on the mantel was showing ten as the woman looked at the twins, their eyes closing slowly.
“I do believe it is their bedtime,” she said quietly. “Mister Simpson, you will carry them up to their beds – one of my associates will follow you, and Mrs Simpson will go with you at the same time. Once you have them in their beds, you may stay with them until they are asleep.”
“And what about...”
“We will make sure your older daughter and your mother are comfortable,” she said, watching as Bob lifted his son in his arms and carried him up the stairs, Louise following with one of the intruders. He returned a few minutes later and lifted Kerry up, the leader of the group smiling as he went back upstairs.
“Now then,” she said as she looked at Josie and Gracie, “please stand facing each other, and out your hands behind your backs.”
“What are you going to do to us,” the older woman said as she stood up.
“Ensure you cannot raise the alarm,” the woman said with a smile as the other two intruders took a roll of silver tape each from the bag, and stood behind both women, crossing their wrists behind their backs and then taping them tightly together. Josie grunted slightly as the tape was kept taut, and then wound round her waist to lock her wrists against her back.
“So we are going to spend the night like this?”
“Indeed,” the woman said as bands of tape were added to secure their arms to their sides, around their stomachs and their shoulders, and then they were made to sit back down, watching as their ankles were crossed and taped together, and then their legs below their knees, Gracie watching as her skirt was folded back, and then replaced as her legs were secured.
“I should thank you, I suppose,” she said as she looked at the leader, “you’ve not harmed us, and the kids are scared, but calm.”
“As I said at the time, dear lady, I have no wish to hurt you – merely to persuade your son to do what we need him to do. Now, both of you will put your lips together please.”
As Louise came down, she was shocked to see her mother in law and daughter sitting on the couch, a silver pad over their mouths and their bodies enclosed in bands of duct tape.
“Your turn, Mrs Simpson,” the leader said, as she felt her arms been pulled behind her back and then the tape pulling on her skin.
“Are you going to let the kids see us like this?”
“You must trust us, Mrs Simpson,“ the woman said as her arms were taped to her side, and then she saw one of the women stand in front of her, a strip of tape held in her gloved hands.
Bob came in to see his wife sitting next to Josie and Gracie, looking at him over the tape gag as her legs were secured.
“Now, Mister Simpson,” the leader said as she looked at him, “why don’t we go into the kitchen, and have a nice cup of coffee, while I explain what is going to happen next...”
Louise opened her eyes with a start, and looked round, wondering if she had dreamt the events of the previous night. As she looked down on her taped legs, however, and felt the tape still pulling on her mouth, she realised it was all very, very real.
“Ah - good morning Mrs Simpson,” she heard the woman say in her rich, deep voice, “I was about to wake you anyway. We are going to cut you free, and you will come to the kitchen where your husband is, and prepare him his breakfast and his lunch as always. The rest of the family will join you there shortly.”
Louise nodded as she said “Ieeendtgtttthtolttfrst.”
“Of course,” the woman said as she produced a knife, and cut the tape away from her, helping her to stand as she pulled the tape away from her mouth. “Keep your voice calm and low – use the downstairs toilet, if you please.”
“Oh thank god,” Rob said as Louise came into the kitchen, “are you all right?”
“I think so,” she said as they hugged each other, one of the women watching, “what are they asking you to do?”
“Help them rob the armoured truck – look, just do what they say. I’ll do so as well – you’re far more valuable than any truck or the contents of it.”
Louise nodded as she said “I guess you’d better get ready – I’ll sort out some coffee and your lunch.”
Rob nodded as he left the room, and Louise turned to the work surface, taking some bread from the bread bin and preparing some sandwiches as the armed woman stood guard.
“Are you two all right,” Louise said as she hugged Bobby and Kerry, the two of them still in their pyjamas.
“I think so,” Kerry said as she looked at the blonde haired woman, “it felt funny being like that. Are they going to stay here?”
“I think they’re going to stay all day,” Louise said, “so you need to be very brave and do what they say.”
“Will we be like that all day?”
“No,” the deep voiced woman said as she came in, and smiled at them. “So long as you promise to stay where you are, and do what we say, then none of you will be. We’ll find some films to watch and games to play instead, all right?”
Both children nodded as she looked at Louise. “Please, continue with the breakfast routine – make this as normal a day as possible.”
As Bob came back into the kitchen, fastening his tie round his neck, he saw the family sitting round as if it was a normal day. Only the presence of the four armed women, their guns visible and their dark glasses covering their eyes, made it both dangerous and slightly surreal.
“Now,” their leader said as she looked at him, “say goodbye to your family and be assured – do as we ask, they will be with you later tonight.”
“Stay safe, all of you,” Bob said as he kissed and hugged each one of them, and then collected his car keys.
“Follow him,” she said to one of the other women, “ensure he makes no attempt to contact the authorities.”
She nodded as she followed him out, the woman turning to the others round the table. “Now – one by one, you will be allowed to go upstairs, shower, and change your clothing, before you are brought back down. You may go first,” she said as she pointed to Gracie, who nodded as she stood up, another of the women following her out of the room.
“Use some of my clothes.”
The grey haired woman nodded as she looked at Louise, and then walked up the stairs.
“You all right Bob – you seem to be miles away,” his boss said as Bob collected the keys to the armoured car.
“Sorry chief – not much sleep last night,” he said as he looked at the dispatcher, his boss smiling as he turned away.
“There you go,” she said as she handed him the route, and then whispered “Remember – we are watching you.”
He looked at the young redhead, and slowly nodded as his partner came in. “Come on,” Bob said, “let’s get going.”
“Here we go – sandwiches and drinks,” Louise said as she put the plate down on the coffee table, Josie setting down the tray with the glasses of soft drink on it beside. It had been a very strange morning – after they had all washed and dressed, they had played a game of Monopoly while the women watched, and then watched a film together.
True to their word, they had not bound or gagged any of them, but their presence had been enough to keep all of them quiet. As Bobby picked up a sandwich, he looked at his mother and said “mum, how much longer are they going to be here?”
“Not much longer,” the deep voiced woman said, “don’t worry – your dad is doing what we asked him to do.”
“So what are you going to do to us,” Louise said as she looked round the room. Bobby was wearing a pair of jeans and a red sweater, while Kerry had on a blue denim pinafore dress over a black jumper and black tights. Gracie had borrowed an old v-necked sweater and some grey pants, while Josie was wearing a black t-shirt over a grey long sleeved top and black leggings. As for Louise, she was wearing a Fair Isle sweater and dark jeans.
“You will find out soon enough,” the woman said as she took out a mobile phone which had started ringing, and talked quietly into it. A few minutes later, she smiled and said “finish your lunch, and then we will discuss this afternoon.”
“IT’s funny,” Louise said, “I often feared what would happen if Rob was in an armed robbery, but this – this was not what I expected.”
“In what way?”
“You’ve been considerate, kind – yet I know what you’re doing.”
“I have some very unusual influences,” the deep voiced woman said, “so please, eat and drink up.
“And when you are done, one by one you may go to the toilet, and find something to put over your feet.”
“So what happens now,” Louise said as she pulled the soft leather boots over her feet, covering the legs of her jeans as she looked at Bobby and Kerry. They had both put trainers on, and were looking at one of the masked women as she took several coils of white rope from the back.
“Now, we need to make sure none of you can move or speak for some time, while your husband does something for us,” the deep voiced woman said. “We start with you; put your hands behind your back please.”
“Does it hurt Mummy,” Kerry said as she watched the woman bind Louise’s wrists together behind her back.
“No – you won’t be able to move your wrists, but it’s not as bad as the tape last night,” Louise said as another of the women tied her daughter’s wrists together, and then Bobby’s, before she started to tie their arms to their sides with bands of rope around their stomachs and their shoulders. Louise was also having her arms bound in place as well – but in her case, the rope was pulled tightly around her body, above and below her chest, and then it was tightened further as the rope went under one arm, around the back of her neck and under the other. She watched as the ropes around her children’s arms were tightened by tying shorter length between their arms and their bodies.
“Oh god, not again,” Josie said as she came in and sat down, zipping a pair of knee length black suede boots onto her legs.
“It is necessary,” the leader said as she had her own arms pulled behind her.
“It’s all right Josie – mummy’s right, it really doesn’t hurt,” Bobby said as she wriggled round, both him and Kerry laughing at their situation.
“Just stay calm and let them do this,” Louise said to her daughter, who nodded as her own arms were secured in place.
Gracie came in, wearing a pair of black leather shoes and looked at the rest of her family as the leader stood behind her and started to bind her wrists together.
“So what happens next,” Louise said as she watched her mother’s chest been encircled with the bands of rope, and then she was made to sit down.
“We need to take you to meet your husband, Mrs Simpson,” the leader said, “and we will have transport here for that soon. For the moment, however, it is time for you all to be quiet.” From the bag, she took a wide roll of brown fabric sticking plaster, and tore a long strip off. “Lips together please.”
“Just stay calm everyone,” Louise said as the fabric was smoothed down over her mouth, sealing her lips together as it stuck to the contours of her mouth and chin. Ten minutes later, all five had been gagged in the same way, looking at each other as they heard something backing into the driveway.
“Shall we,” the deep voiced lady said as she helped Louise to stand up, the others following as they were walked out of the room, down the hallway and to the front door. One of the women looked out, and they were made to walk the short distance to a waiting grey transit van, stepping in through the side door and sitting on the carpeted floor as two of the armed women sat with them.
The leader closed and locked the front door, before getting into the front of the van with another woman and nodding to her. The family felt the van shudder as it moved off, the two women smiling at them as it went down the road.
“Okay, that’s the last place on the list,” his partner said as he got into the front of the armoured car, “back to the depot I guess.”
Bob nodded as he started the engine and drove off, going for about a mile before he said “we’re not going back to the depot. Do not touch the radio, do not press the red button.”
“Bob? Bob what’s going on?”
“They have my family hostage – and they have threatened to harm them if I don’t do what they say,” Bob said as he looked over. “I’m sorry – they even have someone at the depot watching our tracker signal, to make sure we stay on schedule.”
“Oh shit,” the other man said as he looked out of the window. “Look, your family’s more important – where are you to go?”
“There’s an old abandoned industrial estate near the Clifton Bridge – we’re heading there now.”
Louise looked through the gloom at her family as they sat in the van, their legs stretched out in front of them. The van was insulated somehow, keeping out the worst of the cold, but as she looked at her crossed and bound ankles, and the ropes around her legs above and below her knees, she knew she wasn’t going anywhere.
Bobby and Kerry were either side of her, their heads resting on her, their eyes closed, while Gracie and Josie sat opposite, wondering the same thing as her.
“What was going on?”
Bob brought the armoured car to a stop in the abandoned warehouse, and stopped the engine as the gang leader opened the door, and pointed her shotgun at him.
“Out - both of you,” she said calmly, quietly, in her deep voice, Bob and his partner getting out as they watched a winch been attached to the rear doors of the van. They both had their arms pulled behind their backs, and felt the ropes binding them as the winch was powered up, removing the rear doors as if they were sheets of tissue paper.
Their helmets were removed, and their mouths covered with strips of brown fabric plaster as the side doors of a grey panel van were opened.
“Hmmgdd – lusss,” Bob mumbled as he saw his wife and younger children in the van, Louise staring at him as they were marched over to the van and made to lie face down, their legs quickly bound and then pulled back as their ankles were tied to their chest ropes.
The two men looked round as the side door was closed, and the van driven off.
“Where will Lily take them,” Penny said as she and Madame removed their wigs, and watched the contents of the van been loaded into a set of three cars.
“Somewhere they will be found eventually – but she will allow us sufficient time to vacate these premises,” Madame said with a smile.
The manager of the KFC store looked up as one of the other workers approached.
“I went to lock the car park up, and there’s a transit van still there. What do you want me to do?”
“Let me go and have a look,” he said as he walked outside, and round the seemingly empty van. As he approached the rear doors, however, he heard a noise – as if someone was kicking the doors from the inside.
“Is there someone in there,” he called out, and that was answered by more banging. Taking hold of the door handles, he pulled them down and opened the doors wide, stepping back as he saw Bob and his family in there.
“Boss, is there...”
“Call the police – now – and fetch me a pair of scissors,” he said as he got in and removed the plaster from Louise’s mouth.
“Oh thank god,” she gasped, “please, free my family...”