On their return for the new school year at St Blazius, the exclusive girls school located on the South Downs, the sixth form were surprised to find that an additional compulsory evening class was added to their timetables, on the subject of “Personal Security”. Accordingly, at the designated time on the Monday evening the class arrived in the school gymnasium, were benches had been laid out, and took their places.
At 7 pm sharp, Miss Hardcastle and Miss Burges, the headmistress and secretary, entered the gymnasium, accompanied by two young women in their early twenties. Some of the girls thought they recognised the dark haired woman, but the blonde haired one was a complete stranger to them. Both were dressed in jumpers and jeans, with the legs tucked into leather boots, and they carried two holdalls each with them.
“Pleas sit quietly and pay attention girls,” Miss Hardcastle called out. Both she and Miss Burges were dressed in tracksuits and sneakers. “No doubt you are wondering why this new class has been added. Tell me, how many of you heard in the news about Melinda Cathcart.”
The girls looked nervously around. Melinda had been a member of the senior class the previous year, but the news over the summer had been full of the story of her kidnapping and subsequent rescue by the police. None of the details of the crime had actually been released, but it sounded horrible.
“I am now going to tell you how the story started, because it happened here. Please listen without interrupting. When I am done, you will understand the reason for this class.”
The girls sat up expectantly, as Miss Hardcastle began the story.
The early summer sun shone through the windows of Miss Hardcastle’s office, as she sat reading the reports for her year 10 girls. Although it was a warm day, she was dressed in the conservative manner she felt the job required. A high-collared blouse, light grey jacket and skirt, and blue leather shoes were her attire for that day. Intently reading the reports from her teachers, her only reaction when the intercom buzzer went was to reach over and switch it on.
“Mr and Mrs Hayden are here to see you, Miss Hardcastle.”
“Ah yes – would you show them in please?”
Standing, she collected together the reports in a manila folder. Walking over to a filing cabinet, she deposited the folder in a drawer. Standing by the window, she looked out as a gentle knock on the door was followed by the entry of Francesca Burges and a middle aged couple.
“Miss Hardcastle, this is Mr and Mrs Hayden.”
“Welcome to St Blazius School for Girls,” Miss Hardcastle said as she shook both of her visitors by the hand. “Francesca, could you fetch us some tea please?”
Miss Burges nodded and left, closing the door behind her.
“Won’t you sit down?” Miss Hardcastle asked, indicating two chairs in front of her desk, and her visitors took a seat. Mr Hayden was dressed in a dark suit, light blue shirt and tie, while Mrs Hayden was wearing dark sweater and trousers, with a light black leather jacket. She placed her large handbag on her lap as she sat down.
“Thank you for agreeing to see us, Miss Hardcastle. I appreciate it is a busy time of the year for you.”
“Not at all, I’m always pleased to talk to the parents of girls who could be pupils here. Now, from your letter you say that you have a twelve year old daughter. Is that correct?”
A knock was heard on the door, and Francesca entered carrying a tray with a pot of tea, three cups, a jug of milk and some biscuits. She walked carefully across the floor, and placed the tray gently on the desk.
“Thank you, Francesca, that will be all for now,” Miss Hardcastle said, and the secretary made her way out of the room. The breeze from the open window blew across the skirt of her floral printed dress as she left and closed the door behind her.
“Now, where was I? Ah yes – your daughter?”
“Actually,” Mr Hayden said, “I am afraid we have slightly misled you Miss Hardcastle.”
“What my husband is saying,” Mrs Hayden said as she drew a pistol from her handbag and placed it on her lap, “is that we are not here to discuss placing our daughter here. We are actually here to take one of the girls away with us.”
Miss Hardcastle stared at the couple in front of her.
“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand. What did you just say?”
“Shall I pour the tea?” Mr Hayden said, and he stood and poured three cups of tea, handing one to Miss Hardcastle. As she took a sip, he sat back down and passed a cup to his wife.
“Please, Miss Hardcastle, don’t think of doing anything so foolish as to try and switch on the intercom, or call for help. I assure you my wife is an excellent shot. We are going to kidnap one of your pupils, and you are going to help us, whether you like it or not.”
“And if I refuse?”
“If you refuse,” Mrs Hayden replied, “then I shoot you right here and now, and we take the girl without any regard to however many of your pupils may be hurt. If you do as we ask, however, then you will be only mildly inconvenienced.”
Miss Hardcastle took a sip of her tea. “I see,” she said, “and just what are you planning to do?”
The couple smiled at each other. “Have your tea,” Mr Hayden said, “and we’ll explain.”
Twenty minutes had passed when the intercom sounded on Miss Burges’ desk.
“Yes, Miss Hardcastle?”
“Francesca, Mr and Mrs Hayden would like to see the school. Would you kindly go and fetch Melinda Cathcart and ask her to do this for me? When she comes, you can come and retrieve the tea cups as well.”
“At once, Miss Hardcastle,” she said, and switching off the intercom she made her way to the sixth form common room.
Melinda was sat reading when Miss Burges entered. Sixth form girls were allowed to wear their own clothes, and Melinda was wearing a blue v-necked sweater over a light blue blouse, skin tight blue jeans and knee-length burgundy leather boots. A white silk scarf was tied around her neck, with the knot to one side and the ends lying over the jumper.
“Melinda, Miss Hardcastle was wondering if you could show a couple around the school?”
Melinda put her book down. “Sure – I’m not doing anything at the moment.”
Both women made their way back to the office, and Miss Burges knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Miss Hardcastle said, and Miss Burges opened the door to let Melinda in first.
“Miss Hardcastle, I’ve brought Melpphn!”
Melinda was grabbed as soon as she walked in the door, and Miss Burges was pulled in by her arm while the door swung shut behind her. Both had hands clamped over their mouths,
“Francesca, Melinda, I want you to listen to what is about to happen and do nothing.”
Miss Hardcastle was sat in her chair, which had been pushed back from her desk. Her arms were resting on the chair, and white tape had been used to secure her wrists to the wooden armrests. Tape was also wrapped around her chest and arms, securing her to the seat.
“Both of you just sit down and don’t say a word,” Mr Hayden said, and both Miss Burges and Melinda sat in the chairs on the other side of the desk from Miss Hardcastle.
Mrs Hayden picked up the pistol that she had left on the desk, and stood looking at the two new arrivals.
“All right, Melinda, I want you to stand up and put your hands behind your back.”
“What’s going on Rhona?” Miss Burges asked the headmistress, forgetting the usual protocol.
“It appears our visitors are intent on kidnapping Melinda, rather than placing their daughter here as we believed. They threatened the whole school if I didn’t do as they asked – and I have to think of everyone.”
As she was speaking, Melinda looked over her shoulder while Mr Hayden took a length of cord from his pocket and bound her wrists tightly together.
“Put your hands in front of you,” Mrs Hayden said to Miss Burges, and she picked up the roll of white tape that was on the desk. The secretary watched as her hands were put together, palm to palm, and tape wound round her wrists to hold them together.
Melinda was sat on the floor, and Mr Hayden crossed her ankles before tying them together with a further length of cord. Mrs Hayden took Miss Burges by the arm and stood her up, before using more tape to hold her bound wrists in front of her by wrapping it around her waist. Tape was then wrapped around her upper arms and chest as well.
Mr Hayden stood up, and as his wife helped Miss Burges to lie on a recliner he went behind the desk and pushed Miss Hardcastle into the centre of the room. Taking a second roll of tape, he secured her ankles to the legs of the chair as Miss Burge had her ankles crossed and taped together. Finally, Miss Burges had tape wrapped around her legs, for which Mrs Hayden lifted the hem of her dress up and replaced it when she was finished, and Miss Hardcastle had her lap taped to the seat of the chair she was in.
“All right, dear, can you call for the car please?” Mr Hayden asked, and as his wife produced a mobile phone from her bag and placed a call he tore a strip of tape off the roll.
“Close your eyes,” he said to Melinda, and as she did so he pressed the tape over her eyes to act as a blindfold. “Now open wide,” he said, and a balled up handkerchief was placed into her mouth followed by several strips of tape over her lips to keep it in.
Two men appeared at the window, and the couple picked Melinda up by the shoulders and legs and carried her over, lifting her through the open space to the waiting helpers.
“Miss Hardcastle, Francesca, I am afraid we have to stop you both from raising the alarm now. I’m leaving a message for you to pass on to Melinda’s family from us when you finally are freed – tell them we will be in touch soon.”
Each of them then took a handkerchief and placed them in the mouths of the helpless women, before plastering strips of tape over their mouths. They watched as Mr and Mrs Hayden gathered up the rolls of tape, placed them in the handbag they had brought them in, and then let themselves out of the office.
The warm sub continued to stream through the window. Miss Burges began to try and free herself by twisting on the couch, but the tape was too tight and held her wrists firmly in place. Miss Hardcastle rocked back and forth in the chair in a vain attempt to free herself, but nothing seemed to work.
After a while, and with some effort, the secretary managed to get herself into a seated position, and slid across the recliner towards an occasional table that was there. On the table was a telephone, and Miss Hardcastle nodded her approval as Miss Burges got close enough to the table to press the speaker button on the phone with her bound hands. She then pressed the “9” key three times.
“Emergency – which service do you require please?”
“Pls hlp – wr bnd n ggd”
“I’m sorry caller, I cannot hear you clearly. Which service do you require?”
“Caller, can you talk clearly?”
“Just make one noise for yes and two for no. Are you gagged?”
“Can you remove the gag?”
“Caller, I am putting a call in now to your local police station. Please stay calm – help is on the way”
“And so,” Miss Hardcastle said, “you now know the part we had to play in poor Melinda’s ordeal. Fortunately the police were able to rescue her, but I am determined that this is something my girls should be prepared for and know what to do in such a situation.”
“With that in mind, each Monday night for two hours I have arranged fro you to have lessons if you find yourselves in the same situation as Miss Burges, Melinda or I. To do this, I have asked an old pupil of this school to help out. This,” she said pointing to the dark haired woman, “is Lucinda Ponsonby-Benson, the daughter of Colonel Ponsonby the trainer, and the other woman is Ms Tara Smith, her work partner. Both have experience in these situations, and will teach us how to react and deal with these eventualities. Lucinda?”
“Thank you, Miss Hardcastle,” Lucinda said as she stepped forwards. “As she says, both Tara and I have had the unfortunate experience of being held in such a way, but we have found ways of coping with and dealing with these situations. The first lesson you have to learn, however, is not to panic, so we will begin by letting you feel what it is like to be tied up for a short while. Tara?”
Tara brought forward one of the bags they had brought in, and on opening it brought out a number of lengths of rope.
“To show this is a safe environment,” Miss Hardcastle said, “Miss Bruges and I will have our hands and feet tied first.”
Both women placed their hands behind their back, and ten minutes later they were sat against the wall of the gymnasium, wrists bound behind their backs and ankles bound together.
“So,” Lucinda said looking at the sixth form class and doubling a length of rope in her hands, “who wants to be first?”