The Best Laid Plans
“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
may aft times gan aglay”
When Robert Burns penned the above lines in “Ode to a Mouse”, the expression became one that meant no matter how well you plan things, unexpected changes may need to be made with unforeseen consequences. This story was suggested by Mordaca, and I thank him for his suggestion.
The eight women gathered around the table were studying the plans to Crawley Manor with great interest.
“Madame has approved the plans?”
“She has. So is everyone sure of the part that they will play?”
The seven other members of the gang all nodded their heads.
“Good – we rendezvous here tomorrow at three, apart from Samantha and Jocelyn. We will meet up with you later. Understood?”
The two women at the end of the table nodded.
“Excellent – until tomorrow then.”
Crawley Manor was a horse stud and estate owned by Dame Barbara Athory. She was well known in the village the manor was attached to – as the current Lord of the Manor, she was often seen around town. She was mainly known for two things – the fact that she had an all female staff at the manor house and stables, and the range of her antique collection was of world renown. Small wonder that the ladies had laid a plan to relieve her of her collection, and that a great deal of care and attention had been taken over the planning.
Outside a house in the nearby village, Samantha and Jocelyn were watching as a young mousey blonde woman walked to the door and rang the doorbell. She was wearing a white blouse and a-line skirt, with kitten heel sandals.
The two watched as the door was answered by a blonde haired woman wearing sleeveless v-necked top and dark slacks. Both women entered the house and the door closed behind them.
“Do you think you can pass for her?” Jocelyn said to her companion. Samantha was wearing a black sweater and trousers, with a scarf tied over her hair, while Jocelyn was similarly attired but without the scarf.
“I’m a little smaller, but I think I can pull it off. Let’s get moving.”
Both women left the car, Samantha carrying a small holdall with her, and walked up to the front door.
“How’s life up at the manor?”
“Same as usual – Dame Barbara is her eccentric self; although I believe she’s going to be having one of her parties tomorrow.”
“By the way, did you hear about Jessica Jones?”
“The girl who disappeared locally? Yeah – just vanished into thin air by all accounts.”
The two friends were talking when there was a sharp knock on the front door.
“Are you expecting anyone?”
“It’s probably just a salesman – I’ll get rid of him quickly.”
The blonde women stood up and made her way out of the room to answer the door. Two minutes later, she was pushed back into the room by Samantha and Jocelyn, both pointing pistols at her. Jocelyn had pulled a stocking mask over her head, while Samantha was wearing dark glasses.
“Both of you sit down and don’t say a word” Jocelyn shouted as Samantha drew the curtains across the windows.
“What do you want?” the mousey blonde woman asked.
“To be accurate, we want you – but for now, we want you to go with my friend here and you” Jocelyn said pointing at the blonde “to stay here with me.”
The two women looked at each other with frightened eyes.
“All right, I’ll go with her,” the visitor said, and she stood up. Samantha took her by the arm and led her out of the room.
“Now,” Jocelyn said pulling a chair away from the table in the room, “sit down here and put your hands behind your back.” She produced several lengths of rope as the home owner walked over and sat down.
Samantha pushed the mousey blonde woman into the back of the house, where there was a utility room.
“Strip and put your clothes on the bench there.”
“What, strip naked?”
“No – take your clothes off and put them on the bench there, but you may keep your lingerie and tights on.”
The young woman did as she was asked, and stood shivering in her underwear.
“Turn around and put your hands behind your back,” Samantha said, and she placed her bag by the maid’s outfit and produced some rope. Quickly, she tied the frightened girl’s hands behind her back, then stuffed a handkerchief into her mouth and covered it with a white cloth gag,
“Now, kneel on the bench against, the wall, and we’ll make sure you’re nice and comfortable.”
Ten minutes later, the young woman had been ball tied to the bench, with ropes crossed around her body and legs as well as under the wood. She looked on as Samantha removed her own jumper and trousers, and put on her clothes.
“Now, stay still and this will be over soon,” she said as she closed the room door behind her.
In the front room, Jocelyn was securing the home owner’s ankles to the leg of the chair, having securely bound her wrists behind the back and her body to the back and seat. As Samantha entered, Jocelyn took a long strip of white cloth and rolled it into a band.
“Open wide now,” she said, and as the bound woman looked on the cloth was wrapped twice around her head, pulled tightly into her mouth each time, then knotted off behind her head.
“I’m going to stay here for a while to look after you and your friend, so no funny stuff,” Jocelyn said as both she and Samantha left the room, closing the door behind them.
Samantha removed her scarf to show that her hair had been dyed and cut in the same way as the visiting maid.
“Right, I’m off to the Manor house. We’ll call when it’s safe to leave.”
“Good luck,” Jocelyn said as Samantha left the house.
One hour later, a van was parked just down from the entrance to Crawley Manor. The driver watched as Samantha walked past, turned into the driveway and made her way to the rear of the house.
“All right, time for phase II of the plan. Dehlia and Ophelia – go!”
Some way back from the manor house itself were the stables, where Dame Athory kept a number of horses under the management of two competent stable managers. Edie was in the stable offices working on some accounts at this time. She was wearing a white blouse, tan riding britches and black riding boots, and was so intent on the paperwork she didn’t here the door to the office opening and closing, nor the presence of anyone else until an arm was quickly wrapped around her neck in a choke hold. Edie tried to fight back, but the grip was too strong and she quickly lapsed into unconsciousness.
Dehlia gently let her drop to the floor, whereupon Ophelia took some white rope and quickly bound her wrists and ankles. A roll of white tape was then used to cover Edie’s mouth as a gag.
“Do you think you can finish up here while I find the other manager?” Ophelia asked, and Dehlia nodded as she put Edie into a seated position and began to wrap rope tightly around her chest.
Ophelia quietly made her way down the stable block, and spotted Suzie, the other stable manager, checking tack in an open area. She was also wearing a white blouse and black riding boots, but in her case she was wearing light grey jodhpurs that complemented her short, greying hair.
Ophelia crept up behind her, and again wrapped her arm around her neck.
“Now, you’re not going to do anything stupid like scream are you? If you did, I guarantee no-one would here – we already have your friend tied up in her office. So, are you going to be a good girl and do as you’re told?”
Suzie nodded, gasping for breath under the stranglehold on her.
“Excellent – lie face down on the floor, and put your hands behind your back.”
In the office, Dehlia laid Edie on her side. As well as the ropes holding her arms to her side, her legs had been tied together above and below the knee, and she seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Leaving the office, Dehlia made her way down to join Ophelia, who at that point was pulling on the ropes that had placed Suzie in a tight ball tie. As well as ropes around her ankles and wrists, her arms were bound tightly to her side and a crotch rope had been used.
“She’s not going anywhere. Anyone else?”
“No – seems to be only these two out here.”
Dehlia took a phone from her pocket and dialled.
“Phase II complete – move on to phase III”
Inside the manor house, Samantha made her way to the housekeeper’s room. As she approached the door, she could hear a conversation taking place.
“Yes, I understand your ladyship. You are not to be disturbed for the rest of the day. I will let the rest of the staff know.”
The sound of a telephone receiver being replaced could be heard, so Samantha knocked on the door.
“Come in,” she heard, and entering the room she saw a middle aged woman sat at a desk. She was dressed in a long short sleeved satin gown, with black opera gloves over, and she quickly glanced up before returning to studying the papers before her.
“You’re back early, Lindy. Is there something you want to…?”
Slowly she raised her head as something registered.
“You’re not Lindy – what’s going on?”
“You’re right, I’m not Lindy, and what’s going on is a robbery,” Samantha said as she pointed her gun at the housekeeper. “First, please take your hand away from the panic button under the desk, and place both hands where I can see them.”
The housekeeper removed her left hand from under the table, and put them both on the desk. Samantha walked round, opened a drawer to the left of the desk and flipped three switches attached to a box therein.
“Now, pick up the telephone slowly, call your head maid and ask her to gather the staff for a meeting in fifteen minutes in the main hall. Tell her you will inform the cook yourself”
Looking at Samantha all the time, the housekeeper picked up the telephone and pressed a button on the front.
“Edwina, would you ask the staff to meet in the main hall in fifteen minutes. I have some instructions from her Ladyship. Don’t bother with Mrs DeVere – I’ll call her myself.”
Replacing the handset, the housekeeper stood and looked at Samantha.
“Where is Lady Athory?”
A smile crossed the housekeeper’s lips. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you. I will say she won’t disturb you as you rob the place – but what can you hope to take on your own?”
“Who says I’m alone? Now, strip before I rip your gown off you.”
Still looking at the intruder, the housekeeper slipped her gown off and let it fall to the floor.
“Kneel down with your back to me, and put your hands behind your back.”
The housekeeper noticed for the first time the bag Samantha was carrying, and realising what was about to happen she did as asked.
Meanwhile, Ophelia and Dehlia had entered the manor house by the rear entrance, and disabled the alarm system. Moving slowly down the corridor, they came to the room that the plans indicated as the cook’s quarters.
Opening the door quietly, they heard the sound of a shower running in a side room, and looking in they saw the cook, Mrs DeVere, washing herself. Looking at each other, they opened the shower door and the auburn haired woman turned to see two armed women looking at her.
“Turn the shower off,” Ophelia said, “and put a pair of panties on. I’m afraid you’re going to be indisposed for a little while.” As she said this, Dehlia held up a number of skeins of rope.
Turning the tap, Mrs DeVere stepped out and wrapped a towel around herself. “Am I to presume this is a robbery?”
“It is,” Ophelia replied. “The stable staff have already been taken care of, and by now so has the housekeeper. We’ll take care of the other staff later.”
Mrs DeVere shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not going to cause any trouble – may I make myself comfortable first?”
The two armed intruders nodded, and towelling herself off Mrs DeVere went back into her room. Opening one of the drawers, she pulled out a pair of pick panties and put them on. She then sat down in a white chair and placed her hands on her lap.
“Go ahead – tie me up.”
Samantha tied off the last knot, and looked at her handiwork. The housekeeper was on her side, bound like a sausage. Her wrists and elbows were bound and cinched behind her back, and ropes were wrapped around her arms and chest. Her long arms meant her wrists were actually secured to her upper thighs, and lengths of rope were wrapped around her legs down to her secured ankles.
“Now what?” the housekeeper asked, and in reply Samantha took a red scarf, folded it into a square and stuffed into her mouth. She then took a striped scarf, rolled it into a band and tied it into her mouth over the other scarf.
“Now you just lie there while we strip the house,” Samantha said as she left the room. The housekeeper lay still, listening for any sound.
In Mrs DeVere’s room, the cook had been lashed to the chair with her wrists bound behind her back, her ankles bound and her legs tied together above the knees. Ropes around her waist, lap and upper chest and arms held her firmly in place. Ophelia slapped a large strip of black tape over her mouth, while Dehlia checked the knots.
“Watch her,” Ophelia said as she left the room, and Dehlia sat on a couch.
Edwina and the other two maids were waiting in the grand hall, as Samantha walked past and made her way to the door.
“Have you seen the others, Lindy?” Edwina called out, but Samantha said nothing until she reached the front door. Then she turned round.
“I’m not Lindy, and my friends and I have a very simple message for you. Stand still and put your hands on your head.”
Edwina and the two maids looked on aghast as Samantha opened the front door, and let the other four gang members in. At the same time, Ophelia appeared from a rear door and pointed her gun at the three staff members.
“Thank you Samantha. This, ladies, is a robbery. The other staff members have been secured, so cooperate and you won’t be hurt. If you fight back, there will be trouble. Is everything secured, Samantha?”
“The housekeeper was not trouble. She won’t tell me if Lady Athory is here, but if she is we’ll find her.”
“Stable staff and cook taken care of.”
“Very well – you and Samantha look for Lady Athory. Sue and Carol – take these three upstairs and make them comfortable. We will start to take care of the things we want from here. Join us when you can”
Two of the new arrivals, dressed in dark skirts and jackets with white blouses, came forward with a large holdall, and pushed the three maids in front of them up the stairs. As Samantha and Ophelia went off to search the other rooms, the two remaining armed women headed for the library to start their collection.
Over the next half hour, three things happened simultaneously. The gang leader and her companion systematically stripped the rooms of the antiques therein, wrapping them quickly yet carefully and taking them to the hall.
In an upstairs bedroom, Edwina was sat in a chair and securely bound with rope. The other two maids were forced to strip to their underwear, then their hands were bound behind their back and they were pushed on to the bed, where their ankles and legs were also bound. All three had white clothes pushed into their mouths, and blue tape stuck over that as a gag. Sue and Carol looked at the three women, then closed the door and made their way downstairs, where they started to load the van they had arrived in.
Ophelia and Samantha searched the rooms downstairs, but there was no sign of the lady of the manor. They were in the kitchen when Samantha noticed a door.
“Do you think that leads to the cellar?”
“I guess so,” Ophelia answered, “why?”
“Wine can be very profitable – let’s take a look?”
“What about Lady Athory?”
“I don’t think she’s here at all – the housekeeper was just trying to confuse us.”
Samantha opened the door, and a rush of cold air came through. A distant mumbling sound also become audible.
“Now what’s that all about?”
“I’m not sure – come on.”
The two women descended the stairs behind the door, and could see a dull red glow ahead. Moving cautiously, they stopped at a corner and Samantha peered round.
Red candles lined the wall for a vault, but that was not what caught Samantha’s eye. What did was a large stone altar in the centre of the room. A late middle aged woman was standing by the altar, dressed in black hooded robe, and she was mumbling something in a foreign language.
On the altar was a young, blonde haired woman, dressed in a forties style white silk gown. Her hands were pinned under her back with something, and Samantha guessed it was rope judging by the fact there was also rope around her ankles and chest, with further lengths lashing her to the top of the altar around her waist and legs. White tape was over her mouth, but the fear in her eyes was evident to both Samantha and Ophelia as she looked round.
“What the hell? Do you recognise the older woman?”
“It looks like Lady Athory, but surely she’s not going to….”
At this point, they both saw her Ladyship pick up an ornate designed dagger.
“I think she is – you’ve heard about the disappearances in this area?”
“Vaguely – one young woman every year for the last few years. You don’t mean that…”
“Look, I’m a robber, but I’m not going to stand here and watch a murder being committed.”
Samantha stood up, and Ophelia reluctantly followed as she ran round the corner and raised her pistol.
“Drop the dagger, Lady Athory!”
Her Ladyship spun round and looked at the two intruders.
“How dare you interrupt my ceremony? I’m going to call my housekeeper to take care of both of you!”
“Don’t bother – we’ve already taken care of her. Cut her free and let’s here what she has to say.”
Ophelia took the dagger and cut the young girl free. Groggily, she sat up and pulled the tape from her mouth.
“Thank you,” she croaked, “but how did the police find me so quickly?”
“We’re not the police, lass – we’re a gang of robbers who’ve stumbled into this. Are you all right?”
“Robbers – please, don’t tie me up again. I was chloroformed walking home, and I’ve been trussed up down here ever since. Please don’t…”
“Calm down,” Samantha said, “we’re not going to hurt you. Ophelia – take her upstairs and straight to the van. I’ll explain to the others later.”
Ophelia nodded and led the frightened girl up the stairs.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Jessica – Jessica Jones”
“So, you’re robbing me. And just what do you plan to do to me?” Lady Athory sneered.
“Exactly what we would have done if we hadn’t stumbled on your sick little plan,” Samantha said pointing the pistol directly at her. “Strip – NOW!!”
As the gang completed loading their van up, their leader spotted Samantha returning.
“Who’s the uninvited guest?”
“Believe it or not, she’s been a guest of Lady B. Athory as well. You know those women who’ve gone missing around here over the last few years?”
“I’d heard about it.”
“We’ve just solved the mystery – so leave the girl alone. Let me talk to her.”
Returning to the van, Samantha sat next to Jessica.
“Are you all right?”
“Look – we don’t want to harm you, but that bitch needs to pay for what she’s done. We’re going to drop you outside the village – do we have your word you won’t tell them anything that could get us into trouble?”
Jessica nodded again.
“Go straight to the police, tell them your story and send them up here. They’ll find what they need to.”
The gang climbed back into the back of the van, and drove off.
In the cellar, Lady Athory was struggling on top of the altar which she had now been lashed to. Dressed only in her knickers and stockings, her wrists were bound in front of her and lashed to the altar, as were her ankles, and her mouth was covered in blue tape. Her muffled shouts went unanswered, as the other staff desperately struggled to get free, until a strong torch was shone in her face and she saw the police looking at her.