As she walked into the church, Barbara breathed deeply of the atmosphere, peace and tranquillity. The sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows caused faintly coloured rainbows to fall on the pews, and the dust in the air could be seen hanging like soft petals.
As she stood there, in her long coat, her black boots visible on her legs, she slowly walked down the aisle, the heels of her boots clicking on the stone floor. The smile grew wider on her face as she stopped and closed her eyes, silently praying.
“Oh, I’m sorry, can I help you?”
Opening her eyes, Barbara smiled as an older woman walked out of the side door. She had long brown hair, and had a large bead necklace with a brooch on it hanging round her neck, silver hoop earrings hanging from her lobes. The black top she was wearing had a round neckline, with a peach vest top underneath, while her Aztec print leggings were tucked into a pair of over the knee black suede boots.
“I hope so – I was looking for a Belinda Wood?”
“Well you found her,” the older woman said as she looked at Barbara, “how can I help you? I was making preparations for our new vicar to arrive.”
“Well, it would appear I am in time then,” Barbara said as she removed her coat, revealing her knee length black dress with the white tab at her neck. “I’m Barbara Corrigan – and you must be the verger.”
“Guilty as charged,” Belinda said as they shook hands. “Do you want to come and have a coffee?”
“Of course – what’s that knocking noise I hear?”
“Oh that – a maintenance crew from the water company turned up this morning, saying they needed to check the water pipes. I was going to check on them, but let’s have that coffee first…”
“Well, I think I understand the weekly schedule,” Barbara said as she sipped her coffee, the hem of her skirt rising to show the top of her over the knee black boots, “the bishop is coming to conduct the service a week Sunday, so I will be in the congregation for this week, but I’ll stick around to meet the parishioners afterwards.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Belinda said as they both heard the knocking noise from beneath them. “I really should check on what they are doing.”
“Why don’t we both go down,” Barbara said as she stood up, rubbing her bare lower arms, “see what they are up to. Also gives me a chance to examine the crypt.”
“Come along then,” the verger said as they left the office, and walked back into the church, Barbara watching as Belinda opened an old wooden door and they started to walk down. The cool air made Barbara shiver, but they could hear the noise getting louder – a noise that worried her.
“What on earth are they doing, that sounds like a drill,” she said quietly as they entered the crypt – and stared at the scene before them. Strong lights were pointed at the far wall, and a hold large enough for a man to squeeze into had been drilled part of the way through, one man operating the drill as another, both in overalls, watched.
“Excuse me,” Belinda called out, “what do you think you are…” She then shrieked as the man watching turned round, raising a gun and pointing at them as he said “I should have known someone would be in the church. Don, Jack!”
As Barbara turned round, two more men in overalls appeared, looking at them as the armed man said “couple of visitors, make them comfortable in the back there, and keep them quiet.”
“Keep those hands where we can see them,” one of the men said as he too raised a pistol, “and walk in front of me. Jack, go in front and get the ropes ready.”
“What on earth is going on here,” Barbara said as they were led at gunpoint into a small room at the rear of the crypt.
“An unauthorized withdrawal from the bank next door,” the man, who she realised was Don, said as he walked behind them. “Guess you’ll be spending the rest of time we are here down here. Stand still, facing me, and don’t try to resist.”
“We won’t resist,” Barbara said quietly as she looked at the armed man, Belinda nodding as she felt Jack pull her hands down behind her back, and then the rubbing of rope as her wrists were tied tightly together.
“Has this ever happened to you before,” Barbara asked as she looked over her shoulder, and saw the way Jack was taking the rope around and between the older woman’s arms.
“About ten years ago – I was working for a legal office then, when a masked gang came in to steal some files. There was me and two lawyers there.”
“What happened,” Barbara said quietly as she allowed Jack to take her arms behind her back, the rope rubbing on her bare wrists as they were bound tightly together.
“They forced us into the conference room, taped us to the chairs there with our hands on the armrests, and our ankles and legs together. They ruined a perfectly good white silk blouse, black leather skirt, and stockings doing that to me. Then they covered our mouths in tape, and kept us under armed guard until they left.”
Barbara nodded as she felt the rope tighten even more, jack pulling the rope between her wrists before he tied it off. “So how long were you like that?”
“Most of the afternoon and early evening – it was when the cleaners turned up after nine that night when we were finally found. Not the best day I ever spent at work…” Belinda then gasped as she saw the rope that had been passed around her body, stretching her top over her chest as Barbara noticed the peach vest top more under the stretched black material.
“Like this though – no, never,” Belinda said quietly as she watched the rope been wound tightly round her, framing her chest as it was forced out. “What about you?”
“I was twelve at the time, when an armed gang took me and my mother hostage to force my father to open a bank vault. I remember how it started – I was in my school uniform, doing my homework, when a masked man burst into my room and made me go downstairs at gunpoint. There were two more men down there, one of them tying my mother up as the other held a gun to my father’s head.”
Belinda looked at her as Jack gave the ropes one more tug, and tied them off, then picked up a second long length of rope before he began to bind the vicar’s arms tightly to her sides, framing her chest as well.
“So what happened next,” Belinda said as she wriggled round.
“When they had tied my mother’s wrists and ankles, they made me sit next to her and tied mine in the same way, then they made us sit back to back on the couch and tied us together around our upper bodies. I remember the band at our waists, and then one above my chest and below my mother’s, before they tied a separate rope around her upper arms. So I’ve felt something like this, but not this way – or this tight…”
She gasped as Jack pulled the rope even tighter around her arms and chest, and then tied it off, as Don put two sacks down against the far wall of the room.
“Sit down ladies,” he said as he waved his gun, Barbara and Belinda looking at him, before they walked over and slowly lowered themselves to the ground, Belinda watching as Jack crossed her ankles and started to tie them together, the black suede lightening as the pressure of the ropes compressed the material around her ankles.
“Did they keep you quiet?”
“They did – they folded two of my mother’s scarves up, tied knots in the middle, and then put the knots in our mouths before they tied the bands around our heads. Then one of them sat down and watched us as the other two took my father to his place of work.”
Belinda nodded as Jack took more rope, and bound Belinda’s legs together below her knees, the older woman twisting her body round as he did so. “What about your partner?”
“They’re not coming to pick me up until later,” Barbara said quietly as she watched the robber cross her own ankles and then start to bind them together with rope, the leather of her boots squeaking as the rope tightened over them and they rubbed together. “I suspect we will have to use this time in silent meditation and prayer. What about your partner?”
“Me too,” Belinda said quietly as she watched Jack take the rope around and between the vicar’s ankles, and then tie it off before he started to bind her legs together below her knees. She watched as he took great care not to move Barbara’s skirt, but he did secure her legs tightly together as she watched him tie the ropes off, and try to move about.
“Right ladies, time to be quiet – open your mouths please.”
“Will you join me in prayer,” Barbara asked as she looked at Belinda, the verger nodding as they both opened their mouths, allowing Jack to push a compressed sponge into each of them. Barbara raised an eyebrow as it expanded in her mouth, pushing her tongue down and filling her cheeks out, while Don started to tear strips of silver tape from a roll and press them over her mouth and chin.
“Whlllthstththnshrhdd,” she said as she looked at Belinda, the older woman nodding as the tape was pressed firmly over her mouth as well. Don stood up and looked at them, before he said “we could have some fun here…”
Both woman had been shaking their heads at what the second man had said, and then they looked at Jack.
“Show a little respect man – they’re not going anywhere, and I’ll stand guard. Go back and help the others.”
As Don left, Jack smiled and said “please, accept my apologies for your position, but – well, we’re here to do a job, and this is part of it.”
“Shmhphllugee,” Belinda said as she struggled, but Barbara looked at her and shook her head. “Whfhrggfuu,” she said as she looked at Jack, the man nodding and standing by the wall as she closed her eyes and started to pray. Belinda looked at her for a moment, and then did the same, the noise seeming to fade into the background as they both meditated.
“Be? You down here any…. What the hell!”
Belinda opened her eyes at the voice, and looked at Barbara who was sitting, her eyes closed and her head down. As she nudged the vicar, the younger woman opened her eyes as she heard a second voice saying “is anyone down here? I’m looking for the Reverend Barbara Corrigan.”
“Have you got a mobile phone?”
“Yeah – why?”
“Call the police – someone’s dug a bloody great tunnel through the wall to next door. Belinda – where are you?”
“WHRBHHKHRRRR,” Belinda called out as she twisted round, the door to the room opening as a grey haired woman, wearing a grey gilet over a white jumper, jeans and black shoes turned the light on and looked in.
“Oh my god - who did this to you,” she said as she ran over, holding Belinda’s head in her hands before she peeled the tape away as gently as she could, Belinda wincing slightly before she opened her mouth and allowed the new arrival to ease the soaking wet sponge out of her mouth.
“The police are on their… BARB!”
“Hllllfrrr,” Barbara said as a second woman appeared, wearing a denim jacket over a floral print short dress, black tights and flat black shoes. She ran over, stroking Barbara’s cheek as she said “what happened?”
“Oh yeah, sorry,” she said as she peeled the tape away from Barbara’s mouth, and she pushed the wet sponge out with her tongue. “Bank robbers, I think – and this is?”
“Oh – Andrea, meet our new vicar. Barbara, my partner Andrea.”
“Pleased to meet you – this is Kylie, my partner.”
The two women looked at each other and nodded as Barbara said “perhaps you can untie us before the police arrive, and when they’ve gone we can all go to the vicarage, get to know each other better?”
“I’d like that,” Belinda said with a smile, “I’d like that a lot…”