The Gentle Touch - part 1
It was a quiet, peaceful Sunday afternoon as Amy stopped the car and stepped out, collecting a bunch of flowers from the rear of the car as Heidi got out on the other side. The young girl was wearing a black knee length skirt and jumper under a black jacket, dark hose and a pair of black kitten heeled shoes.
Amy was also soberly dressed, in a black short sleeved jersey dress with a wool shawl over her shoulders, natural sheer hose and a pair of flat black shoes. She locked the car and took Heidi’s hand as they walked along the road, passing the gravestones as they did so.
“It doesn’t seem that long,” Heidi said as she looked around her. “Even with everything else that has happened over the last couple of years, it still feels like yesterday when we went into that bank.”
“I know,” Amy said as she looked around her, “if it had not been for what she did - well, I don’t like to think about it, even now.”
Heidi nodded as they walked off the path and between the stones. “Can you imagine what it would have been like for Cindy and Dorothy - and Aunt Veronica. Would she ever have been able to forgive herself?”
“Well, it never came to that,” Amy said as they walked towards the grave they had come to visit. To her surprise, Amy could see two people already by the side of the grave, dressed in black clothing. There was a man standing to the side, dressed in a dark suit which fitted his broad shouldered body very well, his hands in front of him as he watched the woman he was with.
She was in her early forties, and wearing a black jersey dress with a jacket over her upper body. Her legs were enclosed in a pair of knee length leather boots, and a large black hat was over her head. As Amy and Heidi got closer, she could see she was laying a large bunch of flowers on the grave.
“I’m sorry it took so long for me to come,” they heard her say, “but I wanted you to know I understand now why you did it, and that I love you so very much.”
As they stepped forward, Heidi stood by accident on a twig, making it crack as she did so. The man turned and looked at her as the woman stood up, turning as well. They could see that her face was covered by a black veil, and that on the lapel of her jacket was a most unusual brooch, made of gold with a pink amethyst set in it.
“I’m sorry,” Amy said as she looked at the two people, “I did not mean to interrupt you.”
“It’s all right,” the woman said as she stared at them, with a look that made Heidi think she had seen them before. “I was just paying my - well, my long overdue respects to a family member.”
“Oh, she was related to you?”
“A distant aunt - I live on the west coast, and my husband and I happened to be in the area, so I decided it was about time I paid her a visit.”
“Do you know her story?”
The veiled woman nodded and said “Yes - were you there?”
“We were,” Heidi said as she took the flowers from Amy.
“Well, we’ll allow you some time on your own, and wait over here,” the woman said as she took the hand of her husband. They walked over to a nearby tree and watched as Amy and Heidi laid their flowers next to the other bunch, and stood by the graveside.
“Hello again,” Amy said, “I’m sorry we’re a bit late this year, but some things happened, and - well we’re here now. We both wanted to thank you, once again, for what you did for us. If you could only see how much Heidi has grown, or how much our lives have changed in the last year...”
“I’ve made some amazing new friends, and spent some time visiting them in Britain,” Heidi said as she knelt by the grave, “and they have visited here too. I’ve also started dating a young man in my class - I have no idea how it will go, but we will see.”
“I’ve also entered a new relationship,” Amy said quietly, “with a wonderful and loving woman called Dorothy. I know you would approve of her - at least, I hope you would. We committed our lives to each other in front of some friends a few weeks ago, in a very special and very real way.”
“I wasn’t there, and neither was Cindy,” Heidi said, “but hey - we want them to be happy, and that’s what’s important right?”
By the tree, the man had put his hands on the veiled woman’s shoulders, as they listened to Amy and Heidi.
“So we’re starting to think of our new lives with each other, and what we’re going to do next,” Amy continued, “but first I have to go on a trip with Anne and Chloe - I really do wish you could have known her and her sister, but then, I wish you could have known us as well. She’s asked Veronica and me to come and help some very good friends of ours to get over a recent and very traumatic experience. I don’t know the full details, but she says she needs our help, and how can I refuse? Heidi is staying here - school has finished, but she and Cindy are helping out at the church community project.”
They both stood up, and looked again at the gravestone.
Sara Elisabeth Smite
1945 - 2007
Mother, Friend, Heroine
She died so others may live.
“Thank you again,” Amy said as she hugged Heidi, and then turned, the two women walking towards the tree.
“It was nice to meet you,” Amy said as they passed the couple.
“And you,” the veiled woman said, in a way that suggested she had been crying. Amy and Heidi walked down the grass to the path, as the couple turned and walked back to the grave.
The Strong Residence, Thursday
“Good night, Mum,” Heidi said as she kissed Amy and then left the room. Her aunt Veronica was sitting on the other couch, dressed in a light trouser suit and blue top, and next to her was Anne Duncombe, dressed as always in a dark trouser suit and a white blouse.
“Sleep well, mon ami,” Chloe Badelaine said as she sat in the other armchair, dressed in her red v-necked sweater, denim skirt, black leggings, striped socks and Dr Marten boots. Her red scarf lay on her lap as Heidi closed the door, before Anne leaned forward.
“I can’t tell you everything that happened at Holderness Manor a few weeks ago,” she said quietly, “but there was a very major incident, that involved both the Holderness and the Craig family, as well as their housekeeper. Let’s just see it was up there with the weekend you spent with Mister Wickham in terms of danger and the fear level - possibly more so.”
“So that is why you need our help,” Veronica said as she took a sip from her glass, “because we have been through something similar?”
“Indeed - and because you have the skills and experience to be able to relate to them. I am not exaggerating when I say they were in danger of not surviving the experience, and that they have all been gravely affected.”
“Even Lady Holderness - she struck me as someone who was not easily intimidated.”
Amy was shocked to see Anne nod. “Even her - she was stripped, hogtied, gagged, a pillow case out over her head, with Anne Bowden, Susan Holderness and Angela Bowden in the room with her, and all four were - well, assaulted.”
“Oh my god - and the Craigs?”
“A similar situation - if the men had not suddenly started fighting amongst themselves, from what Lady Holderness told me on the phone I fear they would not be alive today. She has asked me to bring you over to help them work through what happened to them, just as you did with the girls and Dorothy.”
“Of course,” Veronica said, “and Chloe?”
“I am of a similar age to Angela,” Chloe said, “and Anne feels I may be able to relate more closely to her.”
“What about the girls?”
“Alicia and Jenny will be there, as will Suzie’s older brother Bobby. Bobby’s friend Colin Hampton will also be coming to help. The others will be staying elsewhere. I will explain the plan when we get there - for now, are you packed and ready?”
“Where are we flying from?”
“A private jet leaves the airport tomorrow - and thanks. This is going to be a very difficult weekend, but I know we can help them.”
The Craig Residence, Friday
Jenny was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing her homework as her father came in.
“Are the babies asleep,” she said as she looked up from the table.
“Finally,” John Craig said as he sat down, “and so is your mother. Where’s Cassie?”
“Round at Patty’s - they’re discussing what they’re going to take when they go off to see Suzie’s other grandmother tomorrow night for the weekend.” Jenny put her pen down on her book and looked at her father, who was rubbing his eyes.
“Dad - what happened at the manor house that night? I know we’ve been told there was a robbery, but normally you and mum or granny or one of the others tell us what happened. This time you haven’t - why?”
John sat back in his chair and looked at his oldest daughter. “I know we haven’t,” he eventually said, “and there is a good reason for that, but I can’t tell you just yet. Maybe during the weekend, when we’re all together.”
“All the older kids you mean,” Jenny said as she looked at her father. “Dad, just how bad was it?”
“Bad enough that we can’t tell Cassie or Suzie - not yet anyway. Please be patient, Jenny - we’ll tell you what we can, but for now you just have to trust me. And thank you for agreeing to come with us this weekend.”
“Well, Alicia said it was important - so important that Bobby is bringing Colin as well. But I don’t understand why we have to come.”
“You will,” John said as he stood up, “You will. Can you give me a hand to sort out the living room please - we need it to be clear for when your aunt Connie and Mrs Bowden come over tomorrow.”
The Holderness Residence, Friday
“Bobby? Have you seen my white shoes anywhere?”
Bobby looked up from the chair he was sitting in, and put his book down. “Have you looked in your closet?”
“Oh,” he heard Suzie say and then “Thanks!”
“She seems to be keen to get to your granny.”
Bobby looked up to see his father standing there. “Sorry, Dad, I didn’t hear you come in. Have you talked to Grandfather?”
Alexander Holderness nodded and then sat down. “Bobby,” he said quietly, “This weekend - you’re probably going to hear a few things that are going to shock and upset you. I just want you to know that whatever happens, it’s for the benefit of your mother, all right?”
Bobby nodded - his mum had been a completely different person for the last month, ever since the night she had gone to a party at the Manor house. Whenever he had tried to ask her what had happened, she had just started crying and said nothing.
“Not been that much fun the last few weeks has it?” Alexander watched as his son nodded, then leaned over and ruffled his hair. “I promise you, son, you will know more about what happened, and then perhaps you will understand why Suzie must not be there this weekend.”
“Well, I hope so,” Bobby said, “Perhaps I can get some other questions answered as well.”
“It’s all right Dad,” Bobby said as he looked at his father, “I’m just wondering what we’re going to do this weekend.”
Alexander just shook his head and stood up. “We’ll soon find out,” was all he said as he left the room. Bobby watched as he walked out, and for a moment he saw a look on his father he had never seen before.
One of fear.
The Craig Residence, Saturday
Patty jumped up and hugged Suzie Holderness as she came in, her father following him. Cassie joined in the hugs as Alexander shook John’s hand, and then saw Miranda Craig walk in.
“Hello, Alexander,” she said as the girls went upstairs, “Is everything ready?”
“Father says so - the four facilitators arrived yesterday, and have everything in place. Once I’ve dropped the girls off, I’ll go back and collect Susan and Bobby, then bring them over. You?”
“We need to wait for Connie and Dave, as well as Simon and Anne,” John said as Jennifer Craig came in. She was dressed in a grey pair of joggers and a hooded top, with a white t-shirt underneath, and a pair of running shoes.
“How are you Jennifer,” Alexander said as he looked at her.
“Tired - and not sure at all why I agreed to do this weekend. I need to stay with the twins.”
Alexander nodded and then said “Come on girls - we have to go. I’ll see the rest of you later.” Jennifer went out to say goodbye to Cassie and Patty as John looked at his mother.
“Are you sure this is going to help?”
“We need to try,” Miranda said as Jennifer came back in, followed by Anne Bowden, who had young Andrew in his car seat. Her husband Simon followed, laying a bag on the floor as he said “Are they here yet?”
A young, blonde haired woman came in, dressed in a blue v-necked jumper over a green top, and a pair of blue jeans. “We’re ready,” she said as she took the car seat from Anne Bowden, “I’ll take Andrew up to join the twins.”
“Good,” Simon said as he put his hands on Anne’s shoulders, “We’re heading over now. Is Jenny coming with you?”
John nodded as Jenny came in; wearing a pair of denim shorts over black leggings, and a long t-shirt. “Right - we’ll see you then,” Simon said as he left his arm round Anne’s shoulders as they left the house.
Jenny walked into the front room, looking out of the window as they walked to the waiting car, Alicia and Angela sitting in the back. As they pulled away, another car arrived and her Uncle Dave got out, carrying another car seat and a bag with him.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he came in and gave both to John, “Connie won’t come out of the car - not until we get there. When will you set off?”
“Half an hour,” John said as Jessica, Jennifer’s sister came down and took the newest arrival. “We’ll see you there.”
Dave nodded as he left the house, and John looked at Jenny.
“Go and get your bag, dear,” he said quietly, “and put it in the car.”
Jenny nodded as she went upstairs and picked up her overnight bag, looking in on her Aunt Jessica and April as they fed the four babies.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said as she ran down the stairs and got into the car. Miranda was already sat in, wrapping a brown shawl around herself as Jenny’s mother and father climbed in the front.
“All right,” John said as he looked at the other three. “When this was arranged, one ground rule was established - we do whatever is asked of us. All right?”
The others nodded as he started the car and drove off, heading out towards the country as Jenny looked out of the window. She felt her grandmother’s hand on her leg and looked into her lined face.
“Will we be all right, Granny,” she said as she looked at her mother staring out of the window.
“I hope so,” Miranda said as she patted Jenny’s hand, “I hope so.”
The drive passed quietly, as they eventually pulled into a set of gates and drove up a tree lined avenue to a place Jenny recognised.
“Isn’t this where we came last summer,” she said as her father pulled up outside the main door.
“It is,” John said as he got out of the car and opened the doors. As they climbed out, they saw the door open and Sir Desmond Holderness come out.
“Welcome,” he said as he shook John’s hand. “Come in - we have a buffet set up.”
“Are we the last to get here?”
“Not quite - Lucinda has gone with Mr Bowden to collect the facilitators,” was all Desmond said as he opened the door to the great hall. As they walked in, they saw the other families in the room. “Get something to eat,” Desmond said as he left the room, “We’ll start in a little while.”
As they entered the room, Jenny had a look round at the people who were inside. To one side, sitting round a table, were Alicia Bowden and her family. Alicia’s long dark hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and she was wearing a black sweater and jeans with black Ugg boots. Angela, her older sister, had her hair cut short, and was wearing a blue t-shirt over a white long sleeved top, a pair of denim shorts over black leggings and knee length leather boots. Her mother, Anne, was dressed in a grey woollen dress, while her father had on an open necked shirt and slacks.
At another table was sat Bobby Holderness, with his father Alexander, tall, thin and dressed in a sports jacket, shirt and trousers. Susan, his mother, had her curly red hair under a headscarf, and was looking anxiously from side to side, her hands clasped in her lap as she sat in a floral print summer dress.
Another boy and man were sitting with them, who Jenny recognised as Colin Hampton and his father, now Detective Superintendant Barry Hampton. Colin looked over at Jenny and smiled as he recognised her.
On the far side of the room she saw her Aunt Connie with her husband, the two holding each other as Aunt Cassie sat next to them. Cassie was wearing a pair of loose pantaloons with a tunic over her upper body, made of lilac coloured silk with a gold trim. Connie was wearing a long gypsy skirt with brown boots, and a baggy white jumper. She watched as her grandmother walked over and joined them, while her mother and father walked over to an empty table next to them.
The other person in the room were Mrs Bridges, the cook and housekeeper at Holderness Manor - but she and her husband were more like family friends. She was dressed in a grey coat dress with a white apron around her, and looked a little worried as she stood by a buffet table.
Lord Holderness said “Please, everyone, have something to eat. I know this is going to be a difficult day, but we need to keep our strength up.” Jenny looked at Alicia, Bobby and Colin, as all four made a beeline for the buffet table and picked up a few sandwiches.
As they walked off to an empty table, they watched the others slowly get up and made their way over to the food. Sitting down, Jenny turned and said to Alicia “Have you managed to find out any more about what happened?”
“No - all Dad would say is that I would learn more today.”
“Dad said the same to me,” Bobby continued as he picked up a sandwich. “I’ve been really worried about them, I can tell you. When Dad spoke to me the other day, he had such a funny look on his face.”
“My dad hasn’t said a single word,” Colin said, “but he wouldn’t. I do know this, though - he’s never looked as worried about something as he did when he drove me over here today.”
The four of them looked at each other, before Alicia said “Even Angela has not been herself since that night - I just wish they would come clean about everything.”
“What about Sara - did you talk to your grandmother about some of the stories she mentioned?”
Alicia looked at Jenny and shook her head. “I haven’t had time - maybe I can ask her over the next couple of...” She stopped as the door opened, and her grandmother, Lucinda, Lady Holderness walked in, in a grey twin set, her knee length checked skirt and a pair of brown brogues.
“I am sorry I am late,” she said to everyone else as she looked round, “but I had to go and fetch the four people who are going to help us this weekend.” She stood to one side and allowed the other new arrivals to come in. One was a young girl in her late teens, wearing a blue v-necked jersey, a short blue denim skirt and a pair of black leggings, and knee length socks that were bright red, the same colour as the scarf that was wrapped around her neck and tucked into the front of her jumper. The shade of red was only slightly brighter than her shoulder length hair, and her outfit was completed by a pair of long Dr Marten boots.
Beside her was a tall, thin woman with long blonde hair, who looked round the room and nodded to everyone. She was wearing a white blouse and a dark trouser suit, and had an air of quiet authority about her.
The other two women looked similar, although one had short blonde hair and the other longer brown hair. The blonde was wearing a green tunic top over a pair of blue jeans, and short black boots, while the other woman was dressed in a white jumper and trouser set, with a floral print scarf tied over her shoulders.
“I’m sure you all recognise Chloe, Anne, Amy and Veronica,” Lucinda said as Mr Bridges entered quietly and closed the door. “They have very kindly agreed to join us for the weekend and help us work through some of the experiences we have had, as well as deal with the way they have left us feeling. As you know, they all have similar tales to tell.”
Lucinda then looked over at the table where Bobby and the others were sitting. “I need to thank your four as well for coming. I know these last few weeks have not been easy for you, and you have had lots of questions that we have not answered. I promise you, as much as we can you will find your answers this weekend. Because we’re going to need your help as well.”
“Of course we’ll help, Grandma,” Alicia said as she stood up, “but we need someone to tell us exactly why we are here.”
“And we will, Mon Cheri,” Chloe said as she sat with the group, “but only when we have all eaten. Then I promise you, you will know.”
“Did Sara come as well?”
“No - she was unable to come,” Chloe said, but as she looked round Jenny could have sworn she saw her Aunt Cassie let out a sigh of relief.
As Desmond put his arm round the shoulder of his wife and walked with her to the buffet table, the other new arrivals walked round the room, talking quietly with everyone. A short while later, Desmond said “I think we should get started soon. George, we’ll take coffee in the main lounge. Barry?”
The four watched as Colin’s dad wiped his chin and stood up. “Colin, can you and your friends come with me please. Chloe, perhaps you could come with us as well?”
“Of course,” she said in her French accent as she stood up and waited for them to go with Colin’s father, nodding to Anne as she went out. Barry Hampton led them to a small room and held the door open as the five walked in, taking a seat as they waited for him to start.
“This is going to be difficult to do,” he said as he took a seat and sat down himself, “but Lord Holderness thinks - and I agree with him - that you are all old enough to hear some more about what happened a few weeks ago at the manor house. Then you will all be in a better position to be able to help with what is going to happen next. What I’m going to tell you now must go no further than this place - and please, for the love of God, do not tell Suzie or Cassie. Your parents will decide when they are old enough to hear.”
“So why am I here, Dad?”
“Because,” Barry said as he looked at Colin, “you are helping - and I don’t want to shield you from what I’m about to tell the others.” He watched as his son nodded, and then took a deep breath.
“You all know that a few weeks ago, a gang of men broke into the manor house, bound and gagged all the women who were here, and started to ransack the place. You also know that a silent alarm was tripped, that I received the alarm, and that by the time I got here the gang of men had fought amongst themselves, and only one of them was still conscious.”
The four youngsters looked at each other and nodded, then noticed that Chloe was saying nothing.
“Well,” Barry Hampton said as he stood up and walked over to the window, looking out of it for a few minutes before turning back, “You need to hear what really happened to the women that night. If you need me to stop, if you need to leave the room, I will understand, but I want you to hear this from me.”
He then started to tell them of most of the events of that night. How a very heavily armed gang of five men had ambushed Mr Bridges outside, then four of them entered through the kitchen and captured Mrs Bridges, binding and gagging her in a chair.
Alicia put her hand to her mouth as he said this, and then described how they had surprised their grandmothers, mothers and aunts, as well as Alicia, in the middle of a tie up challenge. How they had forced Miranda Craig to remove her skirt and boots, before making Lucinda Holderness tightly bind and gag her on the floor of the main room of the manor while the rest of the Craig family watched. As this was going on, the other three women of the Holderness family were frogmarched to a bedroom, their trousers and skirts removed, and then they too were tightly hogtied.
He stopped as he saw the colour drain from Alicia’s face, and the way Bobby’s knuckles were turning white as he gripped the chair. “Do you wish me to stop?” he said quietly, but as the group shook their heads he continued.
“You need to know that all the women were not just bound tightly - they also had rope tied between their legs, and the men - well, they played with them.”
At this Bobby stood up suddenly and walked over to the window, breathing heavily. “Go on,” he said quietly, “what happened next?”
“Lucinda was then forced upstairs, where she found your mother, aunt and cousin,” Barry said as he looked at Bobby. “They also had been tightly hogtied, stripped to the waist and - well, also played with.”
“And my grandmother,” Alicia said as she held Jenny, who had started to shake.
“They forced her to strip, tightly bound and hogtied her on the bed next to Susan Holderness, and then pulled pillow cases over their heads and taped them around their throats.”
He stopped for a few moments to allow what he had just said to sink in, as Colin walked over to Bobby. “Are you all right,” he whispered as he put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Not really - no,” was all Bobby said as he turned round. “So what happened - we had heard the alarm was raised somehow.”
Barry looked at the young man before saying “Indeed - there is a private alarm from the manor house to the police station, and according to your grandmother it was your Aunt Anne who pressed it. Also - well, we had a warning that night.”
Barry looked at Chloe, then at Jenny. “That is right,” Chloe said, “Sara’s dream. I told them, sir, how Sara had a premonition if you will, and informed the police.”
He relaxed and said “Yes, that’s right. The reports both came at about the same time - Anne Duncombe let me know of this as a professional colleague. I came to the manor house with a squad of officers, but by the time I had arrived some sort of argument had broken out amongst the gang. Two were dead, two unconscious and one a gibbering wreck, who kept going on about spiders and demons.
“The women were all freed. You need to know,” Barry concluded, “because they also know, that this gang were well known to the police - there is a very real possibility that if what had happened did not, they would have...”
His voice trailed off as he looked at them, only Alicia whispering “no...” in the silence.
“We need to give thanks that they survived, but it had traumatised them all to some degree - which is why we need your help. Today and tomorrow, you will work with them, and with Chloe and the others, to do some things to help them deal with the events and move on - if you are willing?”
The four looked at him and Chloe, before nodding mutely.
“Good,” Barry said as he opened the door. “Now, join the rest of your family. Colin, I need you to help as well.”
Colin nodded, walking to his father and hugging him as the others followed Chloe out. They walked into the room, to find the three families hugging each other while Anne, Amy and Veronica looked on.
“They’re in your hands now,” Barry said as Colin walked in and sat down, while Chloe went to join the other three, “good luck.”
“No, thank you Barry,” Lord Holderness said as he shook the hand of the Chief Superintendant, and showed him out of the room. As the door closed, Anne sat down and said “Now we can begin - I’m sorry you four had to find out what had happened in this way, but now you know I am sure you can understand why it is important that Suzie, Cassie and the other younger ones do not hear more detail.”
“I understand,” Alicia said as she looked over from where she was holding her mother, “but why are we here? Why are you here? And is this what Sara really saw?”
“We can talk about Sara later,” Lady Holderness said as she looked round the room, “but for now, I have asked Anne and the others to come over because we somehow need to start to put this behind us. They have a lot of experience in similar situations, and they have a plan as to how we can do this.
“Also - they are friends, and we need friends to do this. Anne?”
“Let’s set a few ground rules first,” Anne Duncombe said as she stood in front of everyone. “For the next two days, nothing we say or share leaves this place unless we want it to. You need to feel free to express, share, rant, scream, cry - whatever it takes for you all to deal with the events of that Saturday night. What we are going to do has worked for Amy and Veronica, and in a way for Chloe. It is a mixture of conventional and - well, different methods. You will understand as we go on.
“To start with, we need to tell each other exactly how we felt about that night - and we need to be 100% honest with each other. For the ladies, you need to share what you felt, however painful it is. For the rest of us, we need to share how we felt when we found out - but the women need to go first.”
Susan looked up at Anne Duncombe, then at the assembled group. “Why do we have to share? What if it is too painful for us to talk about, and we just want to push it out of our minds and forget it?”
“Because, Susan,” Amy said quietly, “that’s not going to happen. When Veronica, Dorothy and I were kidnapped with the girls and held hostage by a madman, and made to do things we did not want to do, we tried to forget it, but it ate away at us from inside. We could not sleep, we had nightmares, and we were tired and nervous all the time.”
“How bad was it?” Susan shouted out. “Did you have a man strip you almost naked, bind you so tightly you could not move, and feel a cold steel knife moving up the inside of your leg? Did you have him touch you where only one man should ever touch you? Were you blindfolded, gagged, wondering when they were going to.... When they were going to....”
As Susan Holderness stood up and glared at Amy, she suddenly slumped back into her seat, burying her head in her hands as she started to son uncontrollably. Alexander and Bobby sat either side of her, holding her between them as Bobby said “It’s all right, Mum, we’re here for you now,” and Alexander whispered into her ear, “It’s all right, Susan, it’s all right, we love you and we’re here for you...”
“No,” Veronica said quietly as Susan kept crying, “We cannot say that happened to us. Instead, we were made to watch as the man humiliated us, made us dress in increasingly skimpy outfits, as he did the girls, and at the end we were made to watch as he prepared to assault both Cindy and Heidi. We were made to watch as the daughters of Amy and Dorothy were almost raped - had Anne not arrived, who knows what might have happened.”
Susan looked up at Veronica, her eyes red as she sobbed “I’m sorry - I didn’t know...”
“It’s all right, Susan,” Lady Holderness said as she sat down, while her husband came back in. “For my part, when those masked men came into the room, all I could think of was the fact that, with the exception of Miranda, all of you were in no position to resist whatever they wanted to do. If I am being one hundred percent honest, and we need to be, I was - afraid. I had to do all that I could to protect the six of you, and I suspect Miranda felt the same way.
“Susan, you out of all of us have never faced a similar situation before, and I knew you would be the most afraid. So I had to remain calm, but not just for you - we had three new mothers as well, and from the look of the men I had a horrible feeling they were not going to be too concerned about that.”
She looked at Anne Holderness, and Jennifer and Connie Craig as she said this, before continuing “Sometimes, my past catches up with me in unexpected ways, so I tried to keep the men calm and said we would co-operate. But then they took the rest of my family away, and I had to hide my fear at what was happening. That was when Anne did the first brave thing I saw that night. I suppose we have you to thank for setting our rescue in motion, when you set off the silent alarm.”
Anne Holderness smiled, a small, unsure smile as she said “Well, I was scared for you as well - so I pretended to stumble and pressed one of the alarm switches on the banister. I’m glad they didn’t notice. But I wasn’t brave - I was petrified. For me, for Andrew, for the girls - especially Angela.”
She reached over and put her hand on Angela’s, as the younger girl looked up. “I was petrified - I mean, we had been playing a good game, a fun game, and then we were suddenly caught up in an armed robbery.”
“It must have truly terrified you, my friend,” Chloe said as she sat forward. “Can you tell us how you felt, what happened when you, your mother and your aunt were taken into the bedroom?”
Angela swallowed and said “I wanted to protect both of them but I was too well tied. I must have sworn every obscenity know to man when they stripped us of our skirts and trousers, and then made Mum and me lie next to each other on the floor, then tied our legs so tightly before they hogtied us to each other. My head hurt from the way they had tied my hair as well -and then there was that extra rope - the one that meant I had to lie as still as possible...”
Alicia took Angela’s other hand as she started to cry as well, while Chloe said “We understand, Angela - the rope you describe, it can be a pleasure and a fear as well, especially if you have never experienced it before. And even more so when one - forgive me, Madame Bowden - is more sensitive than usual in that area.”
“What is she talking about,” Jenny said, but her grandmother shook her head and said “We can explain later - please, Angela, continue if you wish.”
“No, I will,” Anne said, “Angela is right - I was more scared than I have ever been in my life, but for her and Susan as well as me. Susan, we have been robbed before, but you must have been absolutely petrified.”
She looked over the red haired woman, who nodded as she smiled weakly back at them. “The other man hogtied me on the bed, pulling my skirt off, and then his hand came round and pulled my blouse open. I was powerless to stop him as he groped me, whispered such foul things into my ear - I tried to get away, but he slapped me and then threatened to... to...”
She started crying again as her husband held her in his arms.
“Then the other man brought you in, Grandma,” Angela continued. “At least we had our clothes on, but you...”
“I was forced to strip, to stand naked in front of my family, and let him bind me more tightly than I had been for a long time. In itself that was bad enough, but he made my put my own underwear into my mouth, use my own hose to gag myself, and then wrapped the tape around my head.” She felt her husband’s hand on her shoulder and put her own on top of it, before continuing “All through that, however, I kept trying to reassure you Susan, to keep you calm. The worst thing you could have done was panic and start struggling - in your state, I shudder to think what would have happened.
“But then they put the pillow cases over our heads, and taped them around our throats. I had never, ever felt so helpless, so unable to control what was happening, and that had to be the worst moment of my life - no, sorry, that came later.”
Lucinda looked at her granddaughter and nodded. “When I heard them speak of what they might do to Miranda and her family, I started crying - at that moment, I felt closer to death than I had done since retiring from the field. If it had just been me, I would have stood tall and endured, but the thought of losing all of you, and also of my grandchildren - I think that was when I stared to lose hope.”
The others watched as Lucinda stood up and put her arms round Desmond’s neck, sobbing quietly against his shoulder.
“Can I say something?”
Anne looked at where Mrs Bridges was sitting with her husband. “Of course you may,” Veronica said quietly.
“I was in the kitchen when all this was happening - they had lashed me so tightly to the chair I could barely move a finger - but I could hear, and I had no idea where George was. I too was scared, but I knew there was hope - because he had not appeared yet.
“And then the two women came in - Miss Duncombe and the other one - and I began to feel brave again.”
“Two women,” Bobby said as he looked at the housekeeper. “Chloe, you said a few weeks ago you had not met my father, but you recognised him today - were you the other woman?”
“No she wasn’t - were you Chloe,” Alicia said as she looked at the young French girl. Chloe shook her head and said “Non - it was not me, and I think you know who it was?”
“ It was Sara, wasn’t it? When she told her stories, one thing was clear - her ancestors all put themselves in danger’s way. So she didn’t just have a dream and tell the police, did she - she was in the manor house.”
She noticed the way Miranda, Jennifer, Connie and Cassie looked at each other, before her grandmother said “Yes, she was Alicia - Sara has a very special gift, and we will tell you more later. You deserve to hear that - but for now, may we continue?”
Alicia nodded as Lucinda continued “Then there was the white light - we all saw it didn’t we?” She looked at Anne and Alicia, who were holding each other’s hands, and then at Susan.
“I saw it - and I know the leader of the gang did as well, because he pressed his gun against my head and screamed something. What was it?”
“It was the Shadow.”
They looked at Mrs Bridges, who said “I saw him with Anne Duncombe and Sara in the kitchen - very clearly and distinctly, dressed like a Georgian man, like the portrait of the first Baron.”
“You are joking,” Alexander Holderness said quietly. “Every record we have of the Shadow is a blur, but this time he appeared distinctly.”
“He did,” Angela said, “just before I killed the man.”
“You did not,” Anne Duncombe said quietly. “If anyone did, it was me - I came into the room, told him to drop his gun, and then shot him. He stumbled back and tripped over you, Angela - you had no part save as an accidental obstacle. I think he was more scared of a ghost, but any involvement you had was accidental - do not feel any guilt over that.”
“But I do,” Angela sobbed, “because he would have been brought to justice if I... If I...”
“If you had managed to get out of the way with your ankles tied to your mother and the rest of you trussed tightly?” Her father put his hand on Angela’s shoulder and said “Trust me, Lass - you were not responsible.”
“And he was facing justice anyway,” Anne said quietly. “That was when I released first Lady Holderness, then the rest of you. You were all scared, all crying, all frightened out of your wits - and I was glad of that.”
“Glad?” Anne Bowden looked at her and shouted “GLAD!!! HOW DARE YOU...”
“She was glad,” Amy said quietly, “because that meant you were still alive, still feeling, still aware - and that mean there was hope. Do you remember what you said when you found out who had kidnapped us, Veronica?”
“I believe it was something along the lines of ‘you have got to be fucking kidding me,’” Veronica replied with a small smile. “You four ladies of the Holderness family faced the most terrifying night of your lives, and you came through it. Together.”
Anne, Angela, Susan and Lucinda looked at each other, and then walked to meet as a group. “I guess we did, didn’t we?” Susan said as they embraced, and then sat back down.
“But that was only half the story,” Anne Duncombe said as she turned to look at the others. “How did the rest of you feel that night?”
Cassie Craig had sat for the session so far, saying nothing and staring straight ahead. “You really want to know how I felt, Anne,” she finally said in a measured, quiet tone.
“I do - and remember, hold nothing back.”
“Well then,” she said as John, Connie and Miranda looked on. “I wanted to take each of them by the head, smile at them and rip their fucking twisted, perverted minds clean free from their bodies, then stuff a red hot poke down their necks and ensure they all burn in hell. Is that clear and reasonable enough?”
silence fell over the room as they looked at Cassie, who was now standing with
her fists clenched into tight little balls. “Those men,” she said quietly,
“humiliated me, my mother, and my sisters. They treated us as little more than
cattle, beasts that were put on this earth to serve them and hang the
consequences. I have faced down raging tribesmen in the wastes of Afghanistan,
and showed no fear. I have faced madmen who wanted to kill me for foiling their
schemes, and showed no fear. I have been strong, served my country with honour
and dignity, and done what needed to be done for Queen and Country. And then
those animals forced us to... to...”
John Craig stood up and walked over, standing in front of his younger sister as he put his hands on her shoulders. “Cassie,” he said quietly, “Nobody in this room doubts your passion, your bravery, your commitment. You are the noblest woman I have ever known - and I include Jennifer in that - but sometimes things happen over which we can have no control. This was one of those times. I know you hate yourself for not doing more, for not being able to stop them - but don’t let that anger eat you up.
“Dad’s right, Aunt Cassie,” Jenny said from her seat next to her mother, “When we faced the Pearl, you were the one who kept us focused, even when Cassie went walkabout. You need to let go of what happened that night - tell us what happened.”
Cassie looked round the room, then sighed and said “when they burst in, I was with Susan and Angela, having tried and failed for that hour to get free. I saw them, saw their guns, and for a while I have to confess I thought ‘Great, another robbery.’ Only it wasn’t was it?”
Miranda shook her head as Cassie sat down, and said “I wasn’t sure at first - last summer, when those two men the police called The Gentlemen Robbers visited the manor house, I could tell they were men who meant business, but two things were different then. As their name suggested, they were polite if insistent - and the children were upstairs. As it was, they coped remarkably well, even young Alicia - or so we thought at the time.”
Alicia shook her head and said “Please, don’t remind me - or of what happened a week or so later.”
“At any rate,” Miranda said as she smiled and shook her head, “These men were neither polite nor accommodating. Lucinda was forced to hogtie me on the floor, but it was after they left I got really scared.
“They started by taking our skirts off, or forcing our pants down to our knees, then each of us had a rope tied between our legs. I was grateful they at least let us keep our panties on - you four?”
She looked at Lucinda and the others, who all nodded. “So,” Veronica said quietly, “At that time you three were all sitting on the floor?”
“For the moment,” Cassie said as she sat back down, “I was picked up and deposited on the couch, and then Jennifer and Connie were sat back to back before they had the rope tied between them.”
“How did you feel at that point, Jennifer?”
Jennifer Craig had not said a word up to this point, as she put her arms round Jenny. “I have been scared before when we were robbed, and I was unsure of what had happened to the girls. This was much worse though - the girls were safe, but all that meant was I was petrified that I... would not see them again. I suspect Connie felt the same way about Daniel and Dave.”
Connie slowly nodded her head, before saying in a very quiet voice “It got worse though, the man started to leer over us, and he started to but our tops away. I could see his eyes burning into me as he said something I don’t want to repeat, and then...”
“By this time I’d managed to free my fingers from the tape - thank god for fear induced sweat,” Cassie said, “and I had started to work on the ropes around my wrists. Even then, though, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to save my family.”
“What about you, Miranda?”
Miranda hugged herself as she said “I was petrified - one of them had said something that made me realise they intended to...” She looked at Jenny and the other teenagers, before saying “Do I have to say it?”
“We need total honesty,” Amy said quietly.
“They intended to rape us.”
Jenny Craig stared at the rest of her family, mouthing silently “no” as Colin and Alicia looked at her. “What happened,” she eventually said. As she watched, Miranda looked at Connie, Cassie and Jennifer, before saying “She came in.”
Miranda nodded as she said “I saw her just walk in the door, dressed in that pink leather outfit, and she said her car had broken down. The four men just stopped and looked at her, and it was almost as if she was the only one that mattered to them at that moment.”
“I saw her as well,” Jennifer said quietly, “and my first thought was what mum screamed - get out of here. I looked at Cassie, who had seen her as well, but then she was grabbed and it was obvious they intended to - well...”
“So what happened then,” Jenny heard herself saying.
“I couldn’t see,” Connie said, “but I heard them saying they were going to tape our noses as well as our mouths, then they called us - what was it, mylphs and glyphs?”
Lucinda raised an eyebrow at this, and glanced at both Colin and Bobby, who seemed oblivious to the meaning. “And that was when they started fighting,” she said eventually.
“Once they had Sara tightly tied and gagged, yes. The two who had tied her up were first knocked out by the other two, and then one of them stabbed the remaining intruder.”
Miranda looked at Cassie as she said this. “Which is when I presume you started to free yourself?”
“I’d got my wrists free at that point, so when I watched the last of the intruders drag Sara behind the couch, out of sight of all of us, I brought my arms round and started to free myself. I had to block a few things out - the sounds, the realisation of what was happening...”
“What was happening?”
Cassie looked at Alicia, then at Anne Duncombe.
“Never mind for now,” Anne said quietly, “So you managed to free yourself?”
“I did - and I was going to free Mum when I saw the last man stand up, and he had a face white as snow on him. His pants were down around his ankles, but he was backing away, screaming some sort of rubbish about not wanting to be eaten.”
“I heard that too,” Jennifer said, “and I had no idea what had caused it. Not then anyway.”
Alicia looked at her family, and said “No, sorry - I did not mean to suggest what happened to the Craigs was funny. It’s just when Chloe and Sara came to see us, and that kid with the scarf over his head came in, he said something about Sara wanting to eat him...”
Anne Duncombe and Chloe exchanged a glance, before Chloe said “That is true, and perhaps we can discuss that later. What happened next?”
“Next? I floored him,” Cassie said, and everyone noticed the sense of relish in her voice. “Funny thing though - when I was standing over him, I saw Sara behind the couch, and for a moment I almost felt as if...”
Amy and Veronica looked at each other, before saying “What, Cassie?”
“No - it’s a silly thing.”
“You need to tell us, Cassie.”
Cassie looked at Anne Bowden, and then said “For one moment, I felt an overwhelming urge to go down and kiss Sara, but that feeling passed almost immediately, when we all saw the Shadow in the doorway.”
“You saw him as well?” Angela Bowden looked at the Craigs, and then said “I don’t understand - he appears to save the Holderness family from great danger, so why did he then come down to you?”
“Perhaps,” Lucinda said quietly, “because there were still two of the intruders who could have come round at any moment?”
She looked round the room, to see if anyone was going to challenge that view, as Desmond Holderness pressed down on her shoulders. “Whatever the reason was,” Miranda finally said, “Anne Duncombe then appeared in the doorway, followed by your father Colin. She spirited Sara away, the police and ambulances came, and - well, now you four know what happened.”
“Madame Craig - all of you,” Chloe said quietly, “You have also faced a night of great fear and danger, and come through the other side. I know there is still great fear, and much you do not understand, but as with your friends you are together still. For the moment, accept and embrace that.”
Jennifer Craig turned and buried her head in John’s chest, the tears starting to flow as she did so. Dave Brown embraced Connie, whispering into her ear as Jenny walked over and sat with her grandmother and Aunt Cassie.
“There is one more group we need to hear from,” Anne Duncombe said quietly. “Lord Holderness, while all this was going on you were at the police station?”
Desmond nodded and said “Yes - Barry Hampton had contacted me in London, and told me to come to the station. When I arrived, he was not there, but it was obvious something was wrong, very wrong. The station was in pandemonium, and the desk sergeant took me straight through to see the Chief Constable.”
“Dad’s boss was there? He never told me that,” Colin said as he turned to face Desmond.
“He wouldn’t - and all I was told was that a notorious gang of home invaders had targeted the manor house. It was about three in the morning by the time Barry came back and told me what had happened - and that was when I called the others.”
Alexander nodded and said “I had to wake young Bobby up and ask him to watch Suzie while I drove to the hospital to meet Father. Simon arrived when I did.”
“I remember that,” Alicia said quietly, “You woke me up, Dad, and said I need to watch Andrew for a little while.”
“Dave was with me when I got the call,” John said quietly as he held his wife, “I went and knocked on April’s front door...”
“April? Your babysitter?”
“That’s right Amy - she came to watch the babies while I called Jessica, and then made my way to the hospital. That was when we all saw them,” John said as he looked at the older women, “and...”
“I wanted to go into the booth where the two intruders were and throttle them with my bare hands.”
John looked at the other men, and as one they all nodded in agreement. “Even you, Dad,” Bobby said as he looked at Alexander Holderness, “but you would not hurt a fly!”
“Robert Desmond Holderness,” his grandfather said, “You are a young man, but one day you will learn that there are occasions when we tend to forget who we are. This is one of them.”
Anne Duncombe stood up and walked to the fireplace, turning and looking at the groups.
“I cannot add anything,” George Bridges said, “I was knocked out - the first thing I really remember is waking up in hospital with my wife by my side. My regret is I did nothing to prevent this horror.”
Anne Duncombe nodded slowly as Chloe, Amy and Veronica left the room, returning with a trolley and two boxes.
“I first want to thank you all for being so honest and open,” Veronica said as Chloe plugged in the television. “You needed to say what happened, so we can start to put those events behind us. I say this, knowing there is a trial upcoming, and you need to relive these events there, but you have taken the first step.
“The next thing we need to do is - well, almost a trust exercise. When Amy and I had our kidnapping, we eventually had to stage a fake kidnapping of Heidi, Cindy and Dorothy to allow them to get over the after effects. The lack of sleep, the nightmares, the feelings of helplessness. Feelings you all have had, right?”
As she looked round the room, Veronica could see all nine of them nodding.
“We’re not going to do that here - first, you need to face whatever fears you have of being tied up again, and this is a way of doing that. Alicia, Jenny, Bobby - I want you to tie up your mothers. Colin, I want you to do the same to Angela. When they are done, I’m going to ask John and Alexander to tie up their mothers, while Desmond takes care of Cassie and Dave secures Connie. Mr Bridges, I’ll ask you to take care of your wife as well.
“Take your time, talk to each other while this is happening, and share your feelings. If you need them to stop for a moment, say so - but it is important those who love you do this. Then we can proceed.”