La Cioccolata in
The Ethics of Theft: Chickenpox
by Doctor George
Soo Angarrack squatted patiently amongst the shrubs in a suburban back garden. When she had first set out to become La Cioccolata’s protegée, she imagined a life of non-stop thrills and excitement. While a life of crime often could indeed be thrilling and exciting, she quickly discovered that it also seemed to involve quite a lot of waiting, often in less than comfortable situations.
As usual, Soo had put considerable effort into preparing for the job she planned to carry out today. It had started with intelligence that she could expect a worthwhile haul from a surprisingly high-specification safe installed in an otherwise unremarkable house in North-East London. Since then, careful observation over a number of of visits, disguised in a variety of ways, she had learned the habits of the family who lived in the house. There were three of them: a married couple in their forties and their daughter in her early teens. The father worked in some financial role in the City and was out of the house all day on weekdays. The daughter was out at school from early morning until late afternoon. The mother, on the other hand, worked from home as a freelance journalist. She seemed to be quite reliably in the house in the mornings, generally to be found sitting at her computer. Her comings and goings in the afternoons appeared to have no regular pattern.
Ideally, Soo preferred to break into an unoccupied and undefended house but in this instance it was impractical due to the occupancy pattern of the family. When empty, the house was also likely to be far from undefended; the presence of a sophisticated safe suggested that there was also likely to be an equally sophisticated alarm system. After some thought, she had concluded that the ideal time to strike was mid-morning on a weekday, when both the father and daughter would be out of the house and the mother would have settled down to her morning’s work.
Soo glanced at her watch. It was just coming up to 10 o’clock, the time she had chosen to make her move. She was already dressed in her preferred all-black working outfit: leather jacket over roll-necked sweater, leggings and knee-high lace-up boots with the tops of her socks just showing above them. Her hands were covered by a pair of thin black leather gloves. She pulled a black stocking down over her head then a black knitted mask over that. She adjusted them for comfort and tucked them down inside the collar of her sweater.
Hoisting her black leather rucksack onto her back, Soo made her way swiftly across the garden to the kitchen door. She had inspected the door on a previous visit and knew that it was secured with a good quality, but otherwise unremarkable, 5-lever lock. She already had the appropriate lock-pick in her hand as she approached the door. It took only a little over 30 seconds to circumvent the lock, a testament to her training and many hours of practice. The only uncertainty in Soo’s mind was whether there might still be an alarm set during the day. She pushed down the handle and opened the door by a few centimetres then waited. Had an alarm sounded, then she would have abandoned the job there and then and made a discreet withdrawal. After a full 2 minutes, nothing had happened, so she opened the door fully, entered the kitchen and silently closed the door behind her.
The initial contact with the occupants of a house was always a tricky moment as their reaction was completely unpredictable. Soo had a good idea of the layout of the house and knew where the mother would be likely to be found. She put her lock-picks away and took out an injector gun of the type sometimes used by veterinary surgeons which she had loaded with rapid-acting anaesthetic. She hoped not to need it, but it was wise to be prepared.
As it turned out, Soo didn’t have to go looking for the lady of the house at all. Just as she was about to leave the kitchen, a woman walked in carrying a coffee mug. She was of medium height (so quite a bit taller than Soo) and of slender build with dark hair cut into a professional no-nonsense bob. She was dressed in a pair of old-fashioned flannel pyjamas of a masculine cut but in pink and white vertical stripes and buttoning right over left in the feminine manner. A pair of thick white socks were pulled up over the ends of the pyjama legs and the collar of a white roll-neck sweater was visible under the pyjama top. The colour theme was continued in the pink and white striped scarf she wore loosely slung around her neck and her pink fingerless gloves.
Given her own intimidating appearance, with only her eyes dimly visible through the stocking under her mask, Soo was used to her victims expressing shock in some way. Terrified screams were not unknown, particularly when a victim was in a vulnerable position, such as being found in her pyjamas. She was therefore surprised that this woman simply stopped in her tracks and looked back at her with apparent interest.
After a few seconds, the woman spoke in a low, even voice. “I’ve heard about you. You’re the one they call the Girl in Black, aren’t you?”
“That’s what the papers have started calling me,” Soo confirmed. “And I know you’re Amanda Trumpton. You’re taking this very calmly – if you know who I am, you must know what’s going to happen to you.”
“You’re armed so I’m trying to make sure I don’t spook you,” Ms Trumpton explained simply.
“Very sensible,” Soo replied. “It’s an anaesthetic gun. I don’t want to use it but, trust me, if I have to I will.”
“So if I just let you tie me up, everything will be all right?”
“Well, I’m going to open your safe, so you’ll be a bit poorer afterwards,” Soo admitted, “but you’ll be unharmed.”
“Unharmed, apart from being tied up for the rest of the day.”
“I expect your daughter will free you when she gets home from school.”
Soo noticed the briefest involuntary upward flicker of the woman’s eyes. “Your daughter isn’t at school at all, is she? She’s upstairs.”
“How the hell...” Ms Trumpton began, now very obviously disconcerted. She left her question unfinished as she realised that her own reaction had given her away.
“She’s in bed, off school with chickenpox,” Ms Trumpton said, regaining her composure. “Surely you’re not going to tie up and gag a sick child?”
That was a very good question, Soo realised. She hated it when she had to tie children up, but it was regretfully sometimes necessary in the course of her chosen profession. As she saw it, she had three choices. She could abandon the job immediately. If she did that, Amanda Trumpton would call the police straight away and there was a very good chance of getting caught. Alternatively she could abandon the job after first binding and gagging Ms Trumpton. It would probably be some time before she was discovered and rescued by her daughter, giving longer to get away. The third alternative was, of course, just to carry on with the job. Soo was reluctant to waste all the intelligence gathering and surveillance that had gone into this job and decided that she would at least put off the decision to abandon until she found out just how ill Ms Trumpton’s daughter was.
“I don’t know how sick she is,” Soo replied. “Let’s go upstairs and I can find out. But before we do that, give me your scarf and put your hands behind your back.”
Amanda Trumpton said nothing, but tossed her scarf to Soo then, without any further prompting, turned her back and crossed her wrists, holding them slightly away from her body.
Soo put her injection gun into a jacket pocket then bound Ms Trumpton’s wrists together, wrapping the scarf first horizontally then vertically before jerking it tight and knotting the ends.
Holding the injection gun in her hand once more, Soo said, “Now let’s go upstairs and see your daughter. She’s called Emma, isn’t she?”
Wordlessly, Ms Trumpton led the way upstairs. “You’ll have to open it,” she said, reaching her daughter’s bedroom door.
Soo opened the door and pushed Ms Trumpton into the room ahead of her.
Emma was propped up in bed on a pile of pillows and watching a small television that had been positioned on her dressing table. The duvet on her bed had been pulled up only to her waist but she was wearing a brown sweater with a yellow cardigan on top to keep the upper half of her body warm. Her long brown hair was pulled back from her face and braided into a pair of plaits that hung down across her shoulders. Emma’s face was still spotted with the red marks where the characteristic small blisters of chickenpox were healing.
“Hiya, Mummy,” Emma said, turning her attention away from the television. Her mouth dropped open as she saw Soo standing behind her mother. “Are you the Girl in Black?” she asked in a small voice.
“That’s what they call me in the papers,” Soo replied, echoing her earlier words to the girl’s mother.
“She wants to tie us up and empty the safe but I’ve told her that it would be cruel to tie up a sick child,” Amanda Trumpton explained.
“I’m not really ill any more – it’s just that I need to stay off school another few days in case I’m still infectious,” Emma pointed out. “Besides, you’ve tied me up already.” Emma lifted her hands and Soo could see that there were a pair of thick white socks covering them and that her wrists were tied in front of her with a nylon stocking.
“That was so you wouldn’t scratch your spots,” Ms Trumpton explained, mainly to justify herself to Soo. “And you were supposed to be wearing your woolly mask to protect your face.”
“I know, but it was a bit itchy, so I pulled it off.” Emma glanced to her right to where a white ski mask lay crumpled on the pillow beside her.
“You don’t seem to be terribly ill to me,” Soo said, interrupting the mother-daughter exchange, “so I’ll do exactly what your mum said I’d do – tie you both up before I go downstairs and get the safe open.”
“You did that to my friend Jemima’s mum a few weeks ago,” Emma said. “She came home from school and found her mum tied up in miles of rope. Have you brought rope to tie us up too?”
“I’ve got rope, but I don’t think I’ll need to use it. Your mum seems to have left a big box of old stockings here.” Soo emphasised her point by nudging a translucent plastic storage box with her toe. It was full almost to the top with discarded nylon tights and stockings in various colours.
“She brought it through from her bedroom to tie me up,” Emma explained.
“Is it just your hands that she tied?” Soo asked.
“Yes, this time,” Emma confirmed “Sometimes we play games where Mummy ties me up much more than this. I hardly ever escape – she’s really good at tying up.”
“Well, you already know what it’s like to be tied up,” Soo said, not unkindly, “so it won’t be so bad if I tie you up some more so that I can get away.”
Emma nodded her head solemnly then said, “Mummy knows what it’s like to be tied up too – Daddy sometimes ties her up at bedtime. I’ve heard them.”
“Emma! Enough!” Ms Trumpton said sharply with a murderous look at her daughter.
“Well, maybe you should be quieter,” Emma shot back.
“Let’s just get it done,” Soo said, raising her voice a little to reassert her authority. “Amanda, you sit here while I see to your daughter.” Soo moved a chair that had been standing against the wall into the middle of the room. “Number 14 café chair – a design classic,” she commented as she did so. “And this one is in steel instead of wood, so there’s no risk of you breaking the chair to escape.”
The chair was indeed a reinterpretation of the 1858 classic design in steel. The seat was perfectly circular with a deep rim around the edge. The back legs and the backrest of the chair were formed from a single arch-shaped length of tubular steel fastened to the back of the seat. Rather than being straight and vertical, the legs had an elegant outward flare towards the bottom. The front legs were made of the same material, similarly flared and fastened to the inside of the rim below the seat. Another complete circle of the same tubular steel linked all four legs a few centimetres below the seat to provide some bracing. The backrest was completed by another arch of tubular steel below and inside the main arch of the chair back. The ends of the tube were flattened and shaped to blend neatly into the outer arch. The whole chair was enamelled in a bright canary yellow.
Amanda Trumpton sat down, her bound hands behind the back of the chair and stared malevolently at Soo.
“Now, Emma, I’m going to tie your legs together first,” Soo explained, keeping her voice even and low so as not to alarm the girl unnecessarily. She put the injection gun down on the floor beside the bed and pulled back the duvet, revealing the lower half of a yellow cotton nightdress patterned with white stars.
“Socks or tights?” Soo asked, pointing at Emma’s feet.
“Good – that will be more comfortable for you.”
Soo lifted the hem of Emma’s nightdress. Her tights were in cream and brown stripes up to mid-thigh level and plain cream above that. Soo selected three of the stockings out of the box. She wrapped one around Emma’s ankles and then cinched the binding between them. She checked the tightness by sliding a finger between the nylon binding and Emma’s leg before tying a firm knot.
“You can’t untie knots in stockings if they’re tied too tight,” Emma pointed out.
“That’s the idea,” Soo confirmed. “You don’t want it too tight around your legs or whatever so it doesn’t cut off the circulation, but you want the knots to be tiny and tight so you need to cut them with scissors.”
Soo repeated the binding below and above Emma’s knees then replaced her nightdress and the duvet.
“Now sit up and I’ll do your arms next.”
“But my hands are already tied,” Emma objected.
“Your hands are, but not your arms.”
Somewhat awkwardly, Emma got herself into a sitting position. Soo fastened the end of a stocking around one arm, just above her elbow, took it across her back and tied the other end around the opposite arm, pulling Emma’s bound wrists back against her tummy.
“Oh,” Emma commented, apparently surprised at the effect.
“Only one more and you’re done,” Soo said, trying to sound encouraging.
Soo picked out of the box a pair of tights that had been doubled in thickness by turning one leg inside out inside the other. “Ingenious,” she commented as she tied it around Emma’s upper arms and chest.
“Lean back and I’ll take your weight,” Soo said, helping Emma settle back down in bed. As she did so, Soo caught movement out of the corner of her eye and let Emma drop.
Ms Trumpton had managed to work her hands out of the scarf binding her wrists and launched herself at Soo.
Soo’s well-trained instincts took over. Having let go of Emma, she ducked down and retrieved her injection gun from the floor in one smooth movement. She allowed Ms Trumpton’s inexpert and uncoordinated assault to pass her before grabbing her attacker around the chest and bringing the injection gun against her upper arm. There was a sharp click as the gun delivered a dose of anaesthetic into Amanda Trumpton’s deltoid muscle. Soo held on tightly for the few seconds it took for Ms Trumpton to become even more uncoordinated and then to slump into unconsciousness.
“No! You’ve killed my mum!” Emma yelled, distraught and horrified, as Soo dragged her mother back to the chair.
“No I haven’t,” Soo told her firmly. “She’s just asleep and she’ll be awake again in a couple of minutes.”
“Really?” Emma asked in a shaky voice.
“Really,” Soo replied, trying to sound both reassuring and authoritative at the same time. “That’s why I’m going to tie her to the chair.”
Soo arranged Amanda Trumpton so that the backrest of the chair supported her back. Her head was slumped forward on her chest and with her legs completely limp, there was a risk that she would simply slide off the chair. Soo stabilised the situation by tying a stocking across Ms Trumpton’s hips, securing it to the back legs of the chair just below the seat. She anchored her body to the chair more securely with two more stockings, one around her chest below her bust and one above, just below her arms, in each case tying the ends to the arch of the chair back. Ms Trumpton was showing some signs of imminent return to consciousness, so Soo worked quickly to immobilise her arms. She crossed her wrists and bound them together using several vertical and horizontal turns of stocking, eventually pulling the knot into a tiny nub of nylon which would be impossible to untie. She took a moment to check that the binding itself wasn’t so tight as to risk cutting off the circulation to Ms Trumpton’s hands then secured her upper arms to the arch of the chair back.
Amanda Trumpton raised her head and opened her eyes, immediately closing then and screwing them tight shut with a grimace of pain on her face.
“The headache is because the anaesthetic messes with your blood pressure a bit,” Soo explained. “It will sort itself out in a few minutes and you’ll feel fine.”
“Are you OK, Mum?” Emma asked anxiously.
Ms Trumpton raised her head and nodded in reply, immediately closing her eyes again in discomfort.
“Just sit still and let me finish this,” Soo instructed. “I promise that you’ll be back to normal within five minutes.”
Soo knelt down beside the chair and pushed Ms Trumpton’s left leg into position before lashing it to the chair leg with stockings at ankle level and just below the knee. She carefully cinched each binding between her victim’s leg and the chair leg. She quickly repeated the process with her right leg, as Amanda slowly opened her eyes again.
“Right, that should do,” Soo announced. “I’m going to have to gag you both and then I’ll investigate the contents of your safe.”
“You’re wasting your time, we don’t have a safe,” Amanda Trumpton said, now fully recovered from the anaesthetic injection.
“That’s not what my information says, and you yourself said I was here to empty the safe” Soo replied. “Socks make good gags that aren’t too uncomfortable. Save me searching the entire room and tell me where you keep yours, please, Emma.”
After a moment’s hesitation and an exchange of glances with her mother, Emma replied, “Over there, second drawer down.” She nodded in the direction of a large chest of drawers.
Soo opened the indicated drawer and brought out a pair of thick striped socks that had been rolled together. “Hockey?” she asked, holding them up.
“Lacrosse,” Emma replied.
“Just as effective,” Soo told her, separating the socks. “I’ll do you first, Amanda. Just open your mouth and relax and it won’t be too bad.”
Soo tied a knot half way up one of the socks. She pushed the knot into Ms Trumpton’s mouth and double-knotted the ends behind her head. She pushed a finger under the gag to check the tightness then, satisfied with the result, moved on to Emma.
“Is this going to be a proper gag?” Emma asked, sounding a little apprehensive. “I’ve been gagged before, but the gag never really did much.”
“It depends what you mean by ‘proper’,” Soo told her. “No gag will silence anyone completely. You will still be able to mumble a bit with this one and you might even manage to hold a conversation of sorts but you won’t be able to make enough noise to be heard outside and you won’t be able to use your teeth to untie yourself.”
“Will it be very uncomfortable?”
“It’s never very nice being gagged, but this kind isn’t too bad.”
Emma nodded. Soo wasn’t sure if that was an acknowledgement of the explanation she had just given or a signal that Emma assented to being gagged.
Soo hesitated, looking closely at the healing chickenpox scabs on the girl’s face, then turned to her mother. “Do you want me to put her woolly mask back on before I gag her?”
Amanda Trumpton nodded in reply.
“Do I really have to have that on again?” Emma complained.
Her mother nodded more emphatically.
Emma shrugged quite expressively for someone who was tied up and allowed Soo to pull the white ski mask down over her head. Soo adjusted the mask so that the eye and mouth holes were properly positioned then gagged the girl in exactly the same way she had her mother.
“The knot will stop you making much noise and I’ve made sure the sock is tied tightly enough that you won’t be able to push it out of your mouth with your tongue,” Soo added as a final piece of explanation. “I will leave the television on however – no sense in you being bored.”
* * *
Soo’s source of information was a little vague as to the location of the safe, but thought it was probably in a downstairs room. Accordingly, Soo went back downstairs to begin her more detailed reconnaissance.
Modern houses offer less scope for the installation of safes than old ones. Exterior walls are generally about 30 centimetres thick but are so highly optimised for insulation as to make the satisfactory installation of a safe impractical. The ground floor is similarly quite a sophisticated structure designed to insulate the house thermally and to prevent damp penetration. Interior walls pose fewer of these difficulties but are rarely thicker than ten to twelve centimetre, so offering very little useful volume. The most likely places, therefore, are the interior of storage spaces and that traditional favourite, the chimney breast, where a large volume of wall structure contains a comparatively narrow flue, leaving ample scope for an inset safe.
A few moments looking around established that there were only two rooms with fireplaces. One was a large lounge with a gas-burning imitation coal fire, the other was a dining room which seemed to double as Amanda Trumpton’s office and had a glass-fronted fire of some kind. Both had pictures hung above the fireplaces. The one in the lounge just had bare wall behind it but a glance behind the one in the dining room/office revealed a panel set into the wall.
Soo moved a chair across the room so that she could reach the picture to remove it from its hook. Setting it down against the wall, so took stock of the safe door she had exposed. There was in truth very little to see. There was a grey enamelled steel door set snugly inside a similarly grey enamelled steel frame. The only visible feature on the door, other than the maker’s name, was a darker grey plastic panel a few centimetres square set into it.
There was a time when safes had mechanical locks against which a skilled peterman could pit his wits and skill but with changing technologies, safecracking spilled over first into the realm of the electronic engineer then that of the computer scientist. This one was definitely in the latter category. Soo had heard of this type of safe but had never seen one before. Instead of a keyhole, a mechanical dial or an electronic keypad for interaction with the lock, there was nothing. Instead, the safe was operated by means of a WiFi connection using a computer or a mobile phone.
There was literally nothing that Soo could do on her own to open a lock of this type. Instead, she was dependent on the expertise that her friend and colleague known as Mr Small had put into a custom-made piece of electronics.
Soo stepped down off the chair and opened her rucksack. She took out a small dark blue plastic box of the type used to house home-made electronic projects. This particular project box housed a small computer, a WiFi antenna, some electronics and a formidably clever piece of software. She stuck it to the grey plastic panel on the safe door with Blu-Tack then covered both panel and box with self-adhesive aluminium foil, crumpling it around them and smoothing it into contact with the steel door of the safe. The safe was now isolated from any wireless signals other than from the blue box and that too was isolated from any external signals that might interfere with its operation or react to its presence.
Soo felt carefully for a button set into a depression in the face of the pastic box then pressed it through the foil, taking care not to tear it. She knew from Mr Small’s briefing that the process of cracking the safe could be quite protracted. The software had to hack the safe’s WiFi in order to take control. It then had to interrogate the safe’s own software to subvert it and eventually persuade it to unlock itself. Soo left the box to do its work and went in search of other pickings.
The lounge boasted an array of quite impressive electronic entertainment equipment but as a specialist thief, that was of no interest to Soo. Her survey of the room did however lead her to a small Art Nouveau figurine in green glass. She estimated that its value was no more than £20 to £30 but that style was a personal favourite of hers, so it went into her rucksack to add to her personal collection.
Returning to the dining room, Soo saw that the safe was still as she had left it. Mr Small’s electronic gadget was presumably still working on the problem. It had status lights, but they were hidden by the shroud of aluminium foil.
Soo investigated the contents of Amanda Trumpton’s desk, but only found some paperwork and an assortment of the usual office paraphernalia.
* * *
Soo’s methodical search of the house took her to the master bedroom, often a source of poorly-hidden jewellery. A quick search of the dressing table and a chest of drawers revealed several strings of beads in various materials, but no jewellery as such. The wardrobe contained only clothes. The bedside table drawer was occupied by the usual detritus of a bedroom: a packet of tissues, paracetamol tablets, Amanda’s contraceptive pills. There were some bangles and a watch, but the bangles were wooden and the watch plastic.
The drawers under the bed proved equally fruitless but fascinating. Emma’s comment on her parents’ behaviour was borne out by the plastic storage boxes in the drawer. One contained bundles of rope, others held a tangle of leather straps, an assortment of rather crumpled silk scarves and an empty space was probably the usual home of the box of old stockings in Emma’s room.
It dawned on Soo that Amanda Trumpton probably had a skin sensitivity to metal of any kind, which would explain the presence of beads in various materials but no metal jewellery and possibly also explained the absence of handcuffs from an otherwise extensive collection of bondage supplies. It was unusual to be sensitive to inert metals like gold and platinum, but not unknown. It looked very much to Soo as if the only return she would get for her morning’s work would be the contents of the safe, assuming that Mr Small’s gadget was indeed able to defeat it.
Just as Soo was about to go back downstairs to the dining room, she heard a loud thump from Emma’s room and went to investigate.
In Soo’s experience, once they were tied up, her victims usually just stayed where they were, tacitly admitting defeat. That was far from the case today. Emma had swung her legs out from under the duvet and was now sitting on the edge of the bed, her head craned forward and her bound sock-covered hands stretching upwards in an attempt to reach her gag. Her mother had found a surprising amount of slack in her bonds and had managed to get enough traction with her toes to move the chair a considerable distance towards Emma.
Ruefully, Soo recalled Emma’s earlier words when she admitted to playing tie-up games with her mother, “I hardly ever escape – she’s really good at tying up.” The obvious corollary was, of course, that sometimes she did escape, even though her mother was good at tying up. It looked very much as though both of them were intent on escaping and, furthermore, had a good idea of how to go about it.
“I’m really very impressed at your progress,” Soo admitted, “but I’m afraid I’m going to have to spoil your game.”
Both mother and daughter had stopped struggling and were looking back at Soo.
“I used the stockings because they were there and because I thought they might be more comfortable for you both when you’re going to be tied up for a long time but I do have rope with me. I was only expecting to have to tie you up, Amanda, but I have plenty for both of you.”
There was no reaction from either Trumpton.
Soo continued, “I’m going to untie and then re-tie each of you in turn and I expect complete cooperation and no interference. You’ve seen the injection gun. It fires darts as well and I’m a good shot. It’s probably not very good for you to get two doses in a short space of time, but I’m willing to take the risk if I have to. I also have this and I’m quite prepared to use it.”
Soo drew a taser out of the leather holster on her belt. She set it to contact mode and pulled the trigger. A rapid succession of sharp clicks were accompanied by a cascade of bright blue sparks between the weapon’s probes. Emma and her mother stared at it wide eyed then exchanged a glance and nodded their agreement to Soo.
“I think we all understand each other,” Soo said evenly. “I’ll do you first, Emma. Do you want a toilet break before I tie you up again?”
Soo had already spotted a pair of scissors on the small desk that Emma had in one corner of her room. She used them to snip through the stockings binding the girl.
“I’ll come with you to the bathroom, Emma,” Soo said. “Amanda, I expect you to sit here quietly. Just remember that I’m armed and I have your daughter under my control.”
Amanda Trumpton nodded her agreement as Soo escorted Emma to the bathroom.
“Leave the door open a few centimetres,” Soo instructed. “Remember I’m right outside. You can take the socks off your hands to do your business but I want to see them back on again when you come out and I don’t want you to touch your gag. Understood.”
Emma nodded and went into the bathroom. Various watery noises followed and she emerged shyly a few minutes later.
Soo was relieved to see that Amanda Trumpton had followed her orders and was sitting exactly as she had been before.
“Sit down on the edge of the bed, Emma,” Soo told her. “Just relax and let me do this and I’ll make sure it isn’t any worse for you than it has to be.”
Emma sat down and watched as Soo unloaded several bundles of rope from her rucksack.
Soo began by securing Emma’s hands. With the girl’s arms in front of her, Soo tied each wrist to the opposite elbow and cinched the bindings so that Emma appeared to have her arms folded. She fastened a doubled piece of rope around the cinch of one binding and took it across Emma’s back and tied it off to the opposite binding, pulling the girl’s arms tight against her tummy. She further bound her arms with a band of six turns of rope around her upper arms and chest. She cinched it between her arms and body for extra security.
“OK so far?”
Soo sensed caution in Emma’s tentative nod in reply.
“Good, I’ll do your legs next.”
Soo started by crossing Emma’s ankles then binding them tightly together. She lifted the hem of Emma’s nightdress so that she could tie her legs further up. She lashed the girl’s legs together below and above the knees and half way up her thighs. None of these bindings was cinched so that Emma’s legs were clamped tightly together and impossible to move independently.
“I’m going to reinforce your gag a bit, just to make quite sure it stays there,” Soo told Emma. “Where would I find a scarf? Wardrobe?”
Soo went to the girl’s wardrobe and opened it. Sure enough there was s shelf with a tangle of winter scarves, hats and mittens on it. She selected one in the same colours as the socks she had used to gag Amanda and Emma. It was about a metre and a half long and 25 centimetres wide in finely machine-knitted wool. “School scarf?”
“It’s not too stretchy, so it’s just perfect for this,” Soo said, advancing on the girl with the scarf pulled tight between her hands.
Soo wrapped it twice around Emma’s head, the first layer going across her mouth below her nose and the second up over her nose almost to the eye holes in her mask. Soo tied a firm double knot behind Emma’s head.
“One down, one to go,” Soo said, lifting Emma’s legs up onto the bed, pulling up the duvet and helping her to settle.
“Do you want a toilet break too?” Soo asked, turning to Amanda Trumpton.
Ms Trumpton nodded in reply.
“Right, same rules – I expect complete co-operation and just remember the taser and the injection gun.”
Ms Trumpton nodded again as Soo snipped her bonds away.
“Take a pair of Emma’s socks with you. I expect to see them, on your hands when you come out of the bathroom.”
Emma watched as her mother selected a pair of white socks, and then went with Soo to the bathroom. As she heard the sounds through the open door, Soo went through a mental checklist of things to do before she finally left them.
Amanda Trumpton emerged from the bathroom with the socks still in her hand. Soo was just about to remind her to put them on her hands when she pointed at her gag and mumbled something. The words were incomprehensible, but sounded like a request.
“You want to take the gag off to ask me something?” Soo queried.
Ms Trumpton nodded.
“OK, take your gag off, but any excessive noise and you know what happens.” Soo gestured with the injection gun to make her point.
Ms Trumpton nodded then reached back to untie the knot holding her gag. She fiddled ineffectually for a moment then put the socks she was still holding down on the floor and tried again. This time she succeeded in loosening the knot and easing the sock out.
After swallowing a couple of times, she said, “I know how cold it can be just sitting still tied up for a long time. Can I put another layer on before you tie me up again, please? I promise to behave.”
“I don’t see why not as long as you’re quick about it,” Soo replied. “And as long as you really do behave.”
Soo ushered Ms Trumpton towards her own bedroom. She paused to pick up the socks and went ahead of Soo.
“Lie on the bed and tell me what you want and where to find it,” Soo instructed.
“There’s a black onesie hanging up in the wardrobe. Can I have that, please?”
Soo opened the wardrobe while keeping Amanda Trumpton in the corner of her eye. She found the onesie with no difficulty, unhooked it from its hanger and tossed it to its owner.
Ms Trumpton swung her legs over the edge of the bed and wriggled into the onesie, zipping it up at the front. It was made of black fleece with a hood and attached mittens, which were folded back. The hood had cat ears on it, also black but with pink interiors. The mittens were decorated with three pink ovals on the palm to suggest the pads of paws and narrow white triangles on the backs to represent claws.
“There’s a pair of matching slippers in the bottom of the wardrobe,” Ms Trumpton said. “Can I have those too?”
Still keeping an eye on her prisoner, Soo squatted down, located the slippers and tossed them onto the bed.
The slippers were ankle-length black fleece bootees with claws indicated the same way as the mittens. Ms Trumpton pulled them on and tucked the ends of the onesie inside them.
“Better?” Soo asked.
Amanda Trumpton nodded.
“OK, socks over your hands and then put the onesie’s mittens on.”
Ms Trumpton pulled on the socks and then, with some difficulty, pulled the mittens over her hands, leaving the thumbs empty.
“Now, back to Emma’s room and I’ll get you tied up again,” Soo instructed.
With Soo following a cautious distance behind, Ms Trumpton obediently padded back to her daughter’s room. Without being asked, she resumed her seat on the yellow café chair and put her arms behind her.
Soo started as she had before by securing her victim down to the chair seat and back against the backrest but this time using rope, running a band of four strands across her hips, anchored to the top of the back legs of the chair just below the seat. She followed this with four turns of rope around Ms Trumpton’s waist and the chair back.
“Just relax your arms for the moment,” Soo instructed.
Ms Trumpton allowed her arms to hang loosely by her sides.
Soo doubled a long length of rope and fastened the folded end of it to the lower of the two arches that formed the back of the chair. She wrapped the doubled rope around Ms Trumpton’s arms and chest, going below her bust and taking care not to over-tighten it. She threaded the rope behind the knot where she had anchored it and reversed the direction of wrapping to put another paired turn of rope around Ms Trumpton’s arms and body, this time going above her bust. She threaded the rope behind the knot and reversed direction again, this time going below the first turn of rope, taking it between Ms Trumptoon’s arm and body then up and back over her shoulder, tightening the bands of rope around her arms and chest in the process. Soo threaded the rope under the top of the chair back then brought it forward again over Ms Trumpton’s other shoulder and down to the lower band of rope around her chest where she threaded it between the rope and Ms Trumpton’s onesie before coming up again to the opposite shoulder, forming a neat V between her breasts. Soo finished off the harness by taking the doubled rope down between Ms Trumpton’s arm and body on the opposite side to her starting point and finally fastening the ends off to the increasingly bulky knot at the back of the chair.
“Can you breathe OK?” Soo asked.
Amanda Trumpton took a deep breath, causing the ropes to pull tight. “Yes, it’s, tight but not causing any problems.”
Without another word, Soo positioned her prisoner’s forearms so that they were horizontally across her back. She used another shorter length of rope to bind and then cinch her wrists before fastening the ends to the lower of the two tubular steel arches which formed the back of the chair.
“Now keep your legs together and lift them slightly,” Soo instructed.
Soo put four turns of rope about half way up Ms Trumpton’s thighs and cinchec the binding, leaving two long tails of rope.
Soo repeated the binding just above Ms Trumpton’s knees, again leaving long tails of rope.
“You can keep your feet on the floor now,” Soo said, kneeling beside her victim.
Soo applied the same binding below Ms Trumpton’s knees and at her ankles. She then returned to the rope binding Ms Trumpton’s thighs. She took the ends of the rope down over the sides for the chair seat, crossed them underneath it and fastened them off at the tops of the chair’s back legs. She took the ends of the above-knee binding and did the same thing with them, but securing them to the tops of the front legs. The two remaining leg bindings were simply fastened to the chair legs either side.
“Kick your feet back and forward,” Soo instructed.
Puzzled, Ms Trumpton did as she was told. She was able to move them a few centimetres back and forth.
“You might just be able to use that to move the chair,” Soo commented.
Soo took another length of rope, found its centre and fastened it to the cinch between Ms Trumpton’s ankles. She took the two ends back and up, tying them off to the tops of the chair’s back legs. Ms Trumpton’s feet were now pulled slightly back and she had no scope to move them at all.
“Right, that’s you completely tied up,” Soo said. “Judging from your toy-boxes in the bedroom, it’s something of a hobby of yours.”
“It has its moments,” Ms Trumpton admitted.
“It’ll have its hours today,” Soo pointed out. “I hope this doesn’t spoil it for you. Now, are you warm enough or do you want a hat on as well?”
“It’ll have to be one of your daughter’s – I know where to find those.”
Soo went to Emma’s wardrobe, where she had previously found a scarf and rummaged through the tangle of knitwear. “Perfect,” she announced holding up a black knitted ski mask much like the white one Emma was wearing.
After pulling the black mask down over Amanda Trumpton’s head, Soo said, “I just need to gag you then I’ll see to the safe and I’ll be gone.”
“You’re wasting your time with the safe,” Ms Trumpton said defiantly. “It’s the best that money can buy. No way can you get into it. Not even with a bomb.”
“We’ll see,” Soo replied quietly, pulling the knotted sock back into Ms Trumpton’s mouth and tying the ends behind her head. She pulled the onesie’s hood up and then used Ms Trumpton’s pink and white scarf to reinforce the gag. She wrapped it twice around Ms Trumpton’s head, once below her nose and once just over it then double knotted it securely at the back of her head.
Soo stood back to survey her work. She was quite pleased with the result aesthetically: the white rope and pink and white scarf stood out nicely from the black onesie and the bright yellow chair. She nodded her approval and, without saying another word, left the room.
* * *
Back in the dining room, Soo was pleased to see that Mr Small’s electronic wizardry had done its work: the safe door stood open by a few centimetres.
She opened the door fully and was both delighted and surprised at the contents. There were stacks of neatly bundled banknotes. Soo examined them and found US dollars, pounds and Euros, all in new, sequential high-denomination bills and still in the banks’ wrappers. Soo did a rough calculation in her head and came up with a figure in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. She concluded that Ms Trumpton’s husband’s work in the City of London was possibly not quite as legitimate as he might wish one to believe.
The trouble with new notes like this was that there was a good chance that someone had a record of the serial numbers and anyone with this much money could afford a serious effort to trace them, which made them a very risky proposition for Soo.
Searching further, Soo found a polythene bag containing a wad of Euro notes of various denominations. She did a rough count and estimated there was between five and six thousand Euros there, all in used notes. She transferred the bag to her rucksack. She found similar bags containing smaller quantities of US dollar, Russian rouble and Swiss franc notes. Given that there were also jam jars of coins in the same currencies, she concluded that this was probably ready money for travel. She took the dollars but left the roubles and francs.
Continuing her survey of the safe, Soo found several folders of documents. A quick perusal suggested that they were business records of some kind. Another type of criminal might have found a way to profit from them, but that wasn’t Soo’s specialism, so she left them. Digging further into the safe, she discovered some family memorabilia. There was a somewhat battered gold pocket watch and a set of First World War medals, presumably relics of an ancestor. Soo never liked to take irreplaceable personal items unless they were of outstanding value, in which case she made an exception. These were probably not worth much more than a hundred pounds, so she left them.
Next to the medals was a brown cardboard box with a label in Cyrillic script. Soo lifted it out and was both surprised and excited at the weight. Inside were two small gold bars, each stamped with РОССИЯ, Russia in Cyrillic characters, and its weight, 250 grams. Soo performed a quick mental calculation: gold was about £25 per gram and there were 500 grams here, so the value must be around £12,500. Grinning happily behind her mask, she dropped the box into her rucksack.
Satisfied with her acquisitions, Soo carefully removed Mr Small’s safe-cracking device and its aluminium foil shield from the safe door, returning them to her rucksack. She pushed the safe door shut and heard a dull clunk as it re-locked itself automatically. She knew from Mr Small’s briefing that his device erased its own traces from the lock’s electronics after doing its work and that a side-effect of that was that the lock was left with a new, entirely random, setting, which would undoubtedly cause the owner some difficulty in regaining access.
Soo realised that the probably illicit contents of the safe implied a change to her usual course of action following a job. After making sure she had removed all traces of her presence in the dining room, re ascended the stairs again.
* * *
As she re-entered Emma’s bedroom, Soo could see that both her prisoners had put some effort into struggling with their bonds. The ropes around Ms Trumpington’s arms and body had slipped slightly but still looked to be secure while the duvet on Emma’s bed had been disturbed. Soo carried out a brief inspection to be sure that there was no danger of either of her victims escaping then pulled Emma’s duvet back into place.
“Full marks for testing my ropework,” she said, “but there’s really no point. The best you’ll manage is to fall out of bed, Emma, and, Amanda, all you can achieve is to knock the chair over. Trust me, it’s no fun lying on the floor tied to a chair for hours on end. I know exactly how to tie someone up and neither of you is going to get free until someone releases you. I usually phone the police after I’ve done a job to tell them to come and stage a rescue mission but, with the stuff you keep in the safe, I’m guessing you might rather stay tied up?”
With only her eyes visible, Ms Trumpingon’s expression was unreadable, but she fixed Soo with a stare before slowly nodding her head. Emma shot her mother a glance that was equally unreadable. Possibly she had no idea of the safe’s contents and the activities behind them, Soo speculated.
Soo noticed that the television was now showing a DVD menu. Whatever Emma had been watching had apparently come to an end. “I’ll at least make sure you’re entertained,” she said, picking up the remote control for the television. She set it to show the Children’s BBC channel and laid the remote on top of Emma’s chest of drawers. “CBBC runs until 7 o’clock, so it should keep you both amused until the cavalry arrives when your man gets home tonight,” she added lightly.
Amanda Trumpington replied with a murderous snarl from behind her gag.
* * *
After a complicated journey involving many changes of transport and more than one change of clothes, Soo arrived at Coco Aldington’s house in Muswell Hill. She let herself in and went straight to Coco’s desk. Without saying anything, she laid the small casdboard box in front of her employer.
Coco raised a quizzical eyebrow and opened the box to reveal the two softly gleaming gold bars in a nest of tissue paper. “Half a kilo,” she commented appreciatively.
“About twelve and a half grand’s worth I think,” Soo said.
“Were you expecting this?”
“My intelligence suggested something valuable, but the gold was a surprise.”
“Nice surprise. Any problems?”
“Not really, but I came close to abandoning the job.”
Soo looked a little uncomfortable. “I tied a sick child up in her bed,” she confessed. “Twice.”
“I nearly had an escape on my hands.”
“Can’t have been that sick then.”
“That was my judgement,” Soo confirmed, “and I knew there was an unusually high class safe on the premises.”
“So you were expecting high-class contents?”
“Yes, and it gives me a teeny feeling that maybe greed outweighed compassion.”
“If we didn’t have flexible morals, we wouldn’t do the things we do,” Coco observed.
“True,” Soo agreed. “And, besides, her mother had already tied her up before I got there.”
“This sounds complicated – perhaps you’d better explain over coffee.”
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