The three men looked at each other across the table, papers, plans and photographs scattered in front of them.
“So,” one of them said, “we are in agreement as to how to approach this?”
“I think so,” one of the others set, “when do we go?”
“Seven tomorrow night – we need to be completed by midnight. Study the plan again – let’s make sure we have not missed anything…”
“And that – is the A-levels done and dusted,” Yasmin said as she came in, closing the door behind herself and dropping her bag on the floor, before she stretched her arms up and yawned.
“Is that why you all went for a pizza,” Alayah called out from the kitchen.
“Yeah – we all needed some down time,” Yasmin said as she looked at herself in the mirror. A grey circlet was on her head, sitting on top of the black scarf that covered her head and neck. The front of the scarf fell over her knee length tunic, with an olive green back and an abstract patterned front. A black jacket made from soft leather was on her top, while she also had a pair of black leggings and brown leather boots which went over her knees in front.
Alayah was Yasmin’s oldest sister, at twenty five as opposed to newly turned eighteen. She was standing at the cooker, also wearing a black scarf around her head and neck, with a black cardigan over her white top. The top also came to her knees, and had a belt detail at the waist, while Alayah also had on black leggings and brown leather boots – in her case a pair of dusky brown ones which came to her knees. “I know you’ve eaten, but there is some extra once Kaamla comes back.”
“Did someone mention my name,” a third voice said as the middle of the three sisters came in. She was twenty one, and unlike the other two wore a hijab made from a purple tartan styled cloth, the black underscarf just visible. She took off her long coat to reveal a purple slip dress over a long sleeved grey top, a thin grey belt around her waist, grey tights and brown patent leather boots that came to just below the knee.
“Supper’s ready,” Alayah said as Yasmin took her jacket off, and the three girls sat round the table, talking about their day as both Alayah and Kaamla ate.
“Looks like they are all home – ready?”
All three men nodded as they pulled the balaclavas down over their heads, made sure the black leather gloves were comfortably on, and then left the non-descript transit van.
“Are you expecting anyone,” Alayah said as they heard the knock on the front door.
“Probably another canvasser – I’ll deal with it,” Kaamla said as she stood up, wiping her mouth and putting her napkin down before she walked out of the kitchen, towards the front door. She checked herself in the mirror, before opening it and saying “Yes, can I…”
She backed slowly up as the three men came in, one of them putting a gloved finger to his lips as he pointed the handgun at her. All three were wearing black boiler suits, fastened at the neck, and black boots – as well as leather gloves and balaclavas over their heads, only allowing their eyes and lips to be seen. As they came in, she saw the holdalls in the hands of the other two, as the front door was quietly closed.
“Put your hands on your head, palm down,” the armed man whispered, “we know your sisters are also at home. Where are they?”
“The kitchen,” Kaamla whispered as she placed her hands on her head.
“Good,” the man said quietly with a smile, “take us to them.”
Nodding, she turned and walked along the corridor, too afraid to say anything as she heard Yasmin say “so what were they peddling this time?”
“Good evening,” the armed man said as they walked in, both Yasmin and Alayah staring at the three masked men as Kaamla said “I’m sorry…”
“Who are you,” Alayah said, “and what are you doing here?”
“Well, we’re robbers, and we’re robbing you,” the armed man said quietly, “both of you, sit down, hands on our heads, and do nothing until we tell you to do so.” He pulled out a chair and indicated to Kaamla she should sit, the other two watching as they slowly sat and placed their hands on their heads.
One of the other two men put his holdall on the table, opening it and drawing out three lengths of cord. Standing in front of Alayah, he said in a Northern accent “put your hands together in front of you, as if you are in prayer.”
As she did so, the masked man doubled the rope over, before he used it to secure her wrists together, wrapping the rope around both limbs several times before he separated the ends and passed them between her wrists to tighten the binding. He took especial care to make sure the bands were neat, the knot small, the ends tucked away out of reach of Alayah’s fingers.
“Your turn next,” he said as he took the second length of cord, and stood in front of Yasmin, binding her wrists in the same way, and then those of Kaamla. When he had finished, the armed man said “right – we’re going to take you one by one to your rooms, and you will do what we say there. The other two will remain in the front room with two of us. Who will be first?”
“I will go first,” Yasmin said, “if you assure me my sisters will come to no harm?”
“We need to secure you, make sure you cannot raise the alarm,” the armed man said as the other two sisters looked at each other, “but so long as you do what we say, that is the worst that will happen.”
“Very well then,” Yasmin said, “do as they say, sisters – hopefully this will not take too long.”
The three girls stood up and walked from the kitchen to the front room, one of the masked men going in first and drawing the curtains across the windows before the three girls were escorted in. As Alayah and Kaamla sat side by side on a couch, the armed man and one of the others sat in armchairs, watching them as the third man took Yasmin by the arm and guided her up the stairs.
“Which room is yours,” he said as they stopped at the top of the stairs. Yasmin raised her bound wrists and pointed to one of the doors, the man nodding as he said “open it, turn the light on, and then sit on the bed.”
Nodding, Yasmin put her hands on the handle and opened the door, waiting for it to swing inwards before she pressed the light switch down, and then sat on the bed, watching nervously as the masked man walked over and closed the curtains. Looking at her, he then said “I want you to show me where you keep your valuables, and then place them in this.” As he spoke, he removed a velvet sack from his pocket and held it up.
“Some… Some of them are of sentimental value, from relatives no longer with us.”
“We can discuss those as you reveal them – so please, begin. And remember – your sisters are downstairs with my friends. Any attempt to raise the alarm, and they will be the ones who may get hurt.”
“I understand,” Yasmin said quietly as she stood up, walking over to a set of drawers and kneeling as she opened the bottom one, taking out several boxes and handing them to the man as he placed them on the bed. Helping her to stand up, he watched as she walked over and opened the first box, taking out a gold necklace and looking at it, before she placed it in his sack.
Piece by piece, the man made her work through the boxes, allowing her to replace some items, but the bulk of them going into the sack. When she had finished, he smiled and said “Now, where is your purse and your mobile phone?”
“In the kitchen,” Yasmin said quietly, “why?”
“We need to go and look in it,” the masked man said, guiding her to the door as they walked back down the stairs and into the kitchen. He then made her open her handbag, removing her purse and placing the mobile phone in his hands. She watched as he removed the battery, and then said “hold your hands out.”
As she did so, he untied and removed the cords, then walked behind her and gently guided her hands behind her back, crossing her wrists and securing them together as tightly as they had been previously – only now, as he tied the ends off and tucked them in, they were genuinely out of reach of her fingers as she moved them round.
“Back to the front room,” he said quietly as they walked in, Kaamla and Alayah looking at her as she walked in. A second masked man stood up, and said “which of you will be next?”
Alayah slowly stood up, her patterned top slipping down as she walked to the door, and Yasmin took her place. The masked man who had accompanied her went to the holdall, taking a fresh length of rope our before he knelt in front of her and crossed her ankles. Kaamla looked behind her sister’s back at the bound wrists, and then looked on as Yasmin’s ankles were secured together in the same way, the rope going around and between her legs as the leather squeaked.
“Will this be happening to all of us,” she asked quietly, the armed man nodding as he stood up. Going to the bag, he took out a third length, and then secured her legs together below her knees. Yasmin looked at her sister, her eyes wide open and a tear starting to toll down her cheek, as she said “do not be afraid Kaamla. It is tight, but it does not hurt, and I pray that we will all be together when they leave us.”
“Behave, and I am sure it will be possible,” the armed man said as Yasmin twisted round, the rope and her boots squeaking as she did so.
“Do you have to take those?”
Alayah watched as the masked man looked at a set of necklaces, and then nodded as she put them into the sack. She was sat on her bed, her empty jewellery boxes and holders beside her as the man looked at her.
“Your handbag and mobile phone?”
Alayah pointed to a large black shoulder bag that stood on the top of a dresser. He brought it over, watching as she removed her mobile phone and handed it to him. “Thank you, “he said as he removed the battery. “Is there anywhere else you need to show me?”
“I have a safe, where we keep money and other documents.”
“Open it,” he said quietly, watching carefully as she opened a door to reveal a walk in wardrobe, then following her in as she stood in front of a shelf, and opened the small safe. At his direction, she place bundles of notes into the sack, his smile growing as he said “thank you. Now, stand up and hold your hands out.”
“I wondered when you would do this,” she said as she stood, watching as he untied her wrists, then took her hands behind her back and rebound them. She then left her room, walking down the stairs with him behind her, and walked into the front room to see Yasmin twisting her legs round, and Kaamla slowly nodding as she stood up.
“Sit next to your sister,” the armed man said, Yasmin smiling and saying “it’s not as bad as it looks” as Alayah sat and watched the masked man start to bind her legs together.
“Why are you doing this?”
“I beg your pardon,” the masked man said as he watched Kaamla open a drawer, taking out and opening her jewellery box.
“Why us? Why pick us?”
“We have our reasons,” the masked man said with a smile, “but I want to thank you and your sisters for cooperating. We have no wish or desire to hurt any of you.”
“But you threaten us, wave a gun at us.”
“To convince you that, although we say we have no desire to do so, if needed we will make sure you do what we say – on which note, start placing your jewellery in here…”
Alayah watched as the man wound the rope around Yasmin’s arms and body again, this time above her chest, the white band pressing down on her scarf and top as he passed it around again and again. Yasmin’s arms were now forced into her sides, the two bands holding them firmly before he tied the ends off behind her back, and then used two smaller lengths of rope between her arms and body to tighten the bands still further.
As she sat back, the armed intruder said to Alayah “your turn now – shuffle forward.” As the young woman did so, the second man went back to the holdall, taking out another long length of rope and doubling it over before he went behind the couch and passed it around Alayah’s body, feeding the ends through the middle and pulling it back as she gasped.
As the bands were wound round, her cardigan was forced to the sides, her chest forced up and out as her arms were immobilised, almost fused to her sides by the rope. She felt them tighten with each tug, and then the small lengths of rope at her sides, before both women looked over to see Kaamla walk in, her own wrists now bound together behind her back.
“We need to make sure you stay here before we leave,” the armed man said, as one of the others took a third long length of rope from the bag and started to bind the middle sister’s arms to her sides, “one of you will remain on the couch, one in an armchair, one on the floor. You two need to decide now which of you is going where.”
As they looked at each other, Yasmin said “I will take the floor. Kaamla?”
“May I… May I remain in the armchair?”
“Of course,” the armed man said as the third intruder took a cushion from the other chair and laid it on the ground. As Kaamla felt her arms pressing against her body, she watched as the two men helped Yasmin to hop to where the cushion was laid down, and then lie on her side, her head resting on the cushion as her ankles were pulled back and secure to her chest ropes. The masked man than adjusted her clothing, to ensure her modesty was protected, while the armed man walked back to Alayah.
“I need you to lie down and rest your head on this,” he said as he placed a cushion on the arm of the couch, Alayah nodding as she lay on her side, looking over as the masked man pulled her ankles back and secured them to her own chest ropes. He then took the time to adjust her top so that she too was not exposed in any way.
“Sit down,” the man binding Kaamla said, the middle sister nodding as she sat in a chair, stretching her legs out as the ropes were used to bind them at her ankles and below her knees. She took a moment to get comfortable, the binder making sure her dress covered her thighs as well, while Alayah said “so what happens now?”
“Now, with deep regret, we need to make sure none of you can call for help after we leave,” the lead intruder said as he went back to the holdall, and took out three plain white scarves, handing one to each of his partners as they folded them into pads. “I must ask you all please to open your mouths, and allow us to use these to help keep you all quiet.”
“As you wish,” Alayah said quietly, opening her mouth as she felt the white silk on her tongue, the slight perfume on it a not unpleasant taste as they each had the pad eased behind their teeth, and they closed their lips over it. The man then took from the holdall a wide roll of white medical tape, tearing a long strip off and handing it to one of his partners before he gently and firmly smoothed the tape over Alayah’s lips and jaw, the tape forming to the shape of her face as it held firm.
She looked over as both Yasmin and Kaamla were silenced in the same way, the three women trying to talk and surprised at the quiet whimpering sounds that came out.
“Perhaps something to distract you,” the lead robber said as the other two placed the smaller velvet sacks into one of the holdalls, walking over to the stereo unit at one side and turning the radio on. “Remain calm, do not struggle – some help will come to you eventually.”
“Whruuggntd,” Yasmin said, her sisters seeing her lips moving under the tightly stretched tape.
“Leave – and thank you all for cooperating,” the man said as the two picked up the bags, and then left them, closing the door as they heard the footsteps, and then the front door opening and closing. They looked at each other, too scared to move as the music played…
“We recorded the police responding to the anonymous tip off at midnight – the three were found still secured, but unharmed.”
The three men looked at each other, and then at the grey haired woman sitting at the other side of the table, wearing a black trouser suit and white blouse.
“You also demonstrated due consideration for the people in the house, and ensured their personal faith. So, given the total you collected last night, and the successful completion of the assignment – congratulations gentlemen, you have passed the test.”
“Thank you Number 14,” the middle man of the three said, the other two nodding.
“You will be admitted to full membership of the Burglars Association in due course – in the meantime, perhaps you will join me in a celebratory drink?”