“I thought I could hear the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, 'cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Far away, as in a trance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance“
Jenny Eccles shook her head as the dulcet tones of Terry Wogan continued to come out of the radio in her kitchen. At any rate, it was less the sound of his Irish brogue that interested her than the cornet piece that was been played by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band on the record. The Floral Dance was one of the set pieces for the All Lancastrian Brass Band competition that weekend, and as the lead cornet player she had to know the piece inside out to do the job properly.
She was only one of five women in the band itself – her daughter Caroline played the kettle drums, Mavis Hart the slide trombone, Polly Wilkins the trumpet and her sister Claire the French Horn. Five out of forty – not many, but still a good proportion given some of the other bands that were taking part. She sat down, a mug of coffee in her hand, and continued to listen to the music as Terry tried to sing along.
Her attention was only taken when Caroline opened the door and walked in. She dropped her bag on the floor and came over to kiss her mother, the corduroy skirt she was wearing squeaking as she came over.
“How was the office today?” Jenny asked as she watched her daughter making a mug of coffee for herself. She was only in her early twenties, her dark hair cut into a Purdey bob and the blue satin blouse she was wearing open at the collar to show the polo neck sweater underneath.
“Be glad you were not there,” she said as she sat down. “The auditors gave us all a hard time, especially with the deposits coming in for next week. How’s the revision going?”
“Hmm – oh, the music. I’ve got it in my head now – we’ll have a chance for a final rehearsal at the concert hall tomorrow morning before the show starts.”
“What time are we expected there?”
“Eight o’clock – the minibus will pick you and me up last of all before taking the five of us over there.”
“Well then – I’ll get changed and sort out the uniforms for tomorrow.”
Jenny nodded as her daughter stood up and walked out of the kitchen. She was in her early forties, but with her husband away on TA duty that week there was only the two of them in the house. She stood up, stretching to get some blood into her arms, before heading over to start preparing their dinner.
Across the town, the various members of the Rawtenstall and District Brass Band were making their final preparations, practicing, pressing their band uniforms, even in one or two cases getting to bed early. As they did so, others were making preparations for the next day as well – but for one family in particular, those preparations were not quite what they had expected.
He looked at his wife and daughter as they sat there, mute through fear and through the fact their mouths were covered with adhesive bandages, as the two masked men explained to him exactly what he would have to do the next day, if he wanted to see them again. They were shivering, mostly due to the fact they were in thin nylon night clothing, but the fear was real enough in their eyes as they watched and listened.
“Come on, Caroline!”
Jenny was looking at her reflection in the hallway mirror, adjusting the black bow tie that was around her neck as she called out. Her white linen shirt was crisply ironed, the seams along both arms clearly visible as she fastened the wrist buttons, and her straight black skirt was brushed free of all dirt and lint. On a hanger on the coat stand was her jacket, black with red lapels and cuffs and the brass buttons shined so that she could see her face in them if she so desired.
Sitting on the floor was a black case, containing her cornet as well as the sheet music for the competition that day. Satisfied she had the tie correctly aligned under her wing collar, Jenny slipped her feet into a pair of black leather shoes and removed the jacket from the hanger. As she slipped it over her arms and fastened it, she noted that it was beginning to look a little tight over her chest. “Time to order a new one,” she mumbled to herself as she turned and watched Caroline coming down the staircase. She was identically dressed, save for the fact she was wearing a pair of knee length black leather boots as opposed to shoes.
“Will you be all right standing in them all day, love,” Jenny asked as Caroline picked up the instrument case and a small leather bag.
“I’ll manage,” the young woman replied as the sound of a vehicle pulling up outside caught their attention. “Come on – we don’t want to be late.”
The two women walked out of the front door into the street outside, where a white minibus was waiting. They could see Paul, their usual driver, waiting in the van with a stranger to them sitting behind him, as well as the other three women waiting. They smiled and said hello as they climbed in, Paul waiting until the door had closed before he drove off.
“who’s the new boy, Paul,” Caroline said as she sat down near to the front.
“He.. he’s a new employee. The boss asked me to take him on the trip today so that he can see what you lot are like.”
“Are you all right, love – you seem a bit pale,” Jenny said as she looked at him.
“Ignore him,” Polly called out in her broad accent, “he’s just a little the worse for the night before. All set for today?”
Jenny laughed as she looked over at the oldest woman in the group. Polly was in her early fifties, a small plump woman with greying hair and one of the most infectious laughs Jenny had ever heard. Her jacket was open, showing her blouse stretched so tightly that Jenny could see the black lace bra underneath.
Sitting behind her was her sister Claire. She had been at school with Jenny, and they had been friends ever since they had been in pigtails watching the planes flying overhead. She was taller and thinner than Polly, taking more after their father than their mother, and sat quietly. Occasionally she would look out of the window as the bus drove along, playing with her long auburn hair in her fingers.
The last person was Mavis, at nineteen one of the youngest people in the whole band, never mind being the youngest woman. She had joined a year or so before after coming to the area to work, and had shown herself to be a very good trombonist. She smiled at the conversation, her red hair done up in a bun that was perched on her head. On the seats beside each of the women were instrument cases, as well as the peaked caps they all had to wear as part of their uniform.
“How’s the missus, Paul,” Caroline asked as they went down the road. Paul seemed to have become their regular driver, having taken them to most of their competitions over the last few years, so they felt comfortable with him as their driver and their friend.
“She... She’s fine – staying at home today, a bit under the weather, you know.”
“Oh well, tell her we were asking after her, all right?”
“Yeah – yeah I will,” Paul replied as he glanced over at the young man sitting in the seat next to him. He nodded in reply as he sat there, a coat neatly folded on his lap. The journey continued, the girls chatting amongst themselves as Paul made his way onto the motorway and headed onwards. It was at least half an hour before Caroline realised something.
“Paul? Which way are you going – the concert is in Preston, not Burnley.”
“Sorry, Caroline – I need to go a different route today. If you just sit down and wait, we’ll get there on time.”
“Are you sure,” Caroline said as she stood up and started to walk to the front of the bus, “This seems a very strange route.”
“He told you to shut up and sit down,” the other man said as she stood up, the coat falling from his lap to reveal a sawn-off shotgun which he pointed at the five women. “Sit down and keep your trap shut, and you won’t; be harmed.”
“What the hell,” Jenny said as she stood up, but Paul called out “Please, girls, do as he says. They’re holding Suzie and the kid hostage, and if we don’t do as they say they’ll kill them.” As he said this, he indicated to turn off the motorway.
“He’s right – his family is depending on you five sitting tight and shutting up,” the stranger said as he sat down, looking at them all the time. “It won’t be long now, so sit tight and enjoy the ride.”
“You can’t be serious,” Polly cried out, only for the man to make his way down and point the two barrels directly into her face. “Cry out like that again and I’ll dump you on the roadside,” he said before walking back down. “Just get us to where we told you to go.”
The five looked at each other, before sitting in silence as Paul drove the minibus along a series of increasingly narrowing roads, eventually stopping outside a farmhouse at the end of a long narrow track.
“All right ladies,” the man said as he stood up, “Hands behind your heads and off the bus – move!”
“What about my family,” Paul said with a quivering voice. His reply was stunning – literally, as the man hit him over the back of the head with the barrel of his gun, sending him sprawling forward and slumped over the wheel.
“Move,” he snapped as he turned back to the women, the door opening as he spoke. Jenny stood up and walked forward, the others following suit, to be greeted outside by a second armed man who hustled the five women into a barn that stood to the side of the house.
“Stand there,” he ordered them as Caroline walked in the barn. As they waited, their arms raised so that the bottoms of their jackets rose up slightly from their waists, the man who had been on the bus picked up a large ball of baling twine and a knife from a shelf on the wall. He cut two lengths of about two foot from the ball, before walking back over. “You two are sisters, right?” he said looking at Polly and Claire.
“So you two can be first. Turn round and put your hands behind your back.”
“What on earth is this about? We have a competition to go to?” As Jenny shouted this out, the young man smiled and looked at her.
“The competition can wait – we have business with you, Mrs Eccles. Now, if you call out again, we will hurt you, so shut up and stand still. You sisters do as you’re told, while the other two of you come over here.”
Caroline and Mavis looked at each other as he held the two lengths of twine in front of him. “While Bert here watches over all of you, you two are going to tie your friend’s wrists together behind their backs, nice and tightly, do you understand?”
“Do we have a choice in the matter,” Mavis asked in almost a whisper.
“Yes – you can do this or you can watch us strip all five of you and then do it. Which would you prefer?”
“Just do it, girls,” Polly said as she slowly turned and put her hands behind her back. “They mean business, so don’t give them the satisfaction. Keep calm, Claire – we’ll get through this together.”
Jenny watched with a mixture of fascination and horror as the two younger women wrapped the length of twine around the wrists of their friends, passing it around and between as they did so. They tried to ensure that the thin cord did not come directly into contact with their wrists, although the brown could clearly be seen against the white of their shirt sleeves. Eventually they stood back and watched as the younger of the two men checked their work.
“Everything all right, Ernie?”
“Good to go, Bert. You two,” he said to the sisters, “Walk over there and sit against that support beam, one each side, and do it quickly.”
As Jenny watched her friends been forced to sit against the beam, she turned to the other man and said “What is this all about? We don’t have any money, so you won’t get a ransom for us. I don’t understand why...”
“To be honest, Mrs Eccles, our plans only involve you and your daughter.” Bert spoke as he watched the other man cutting two more lengths of twine and handing them to Caroline and
Mavis, ordering them to tie the older women’s ankles together. “The others are only here because the driver insisted he had to pick you two up last. If he’d been a little more co-operative, then perhaps they would have just missed their bus.”
“Co-operative? What the hell do you – Polly, are you all right?”
“Don’t worry about me, Jenny – the cord just cut a little into my ankles. We’ll cope.”
“Brave words, lady – now sit still. You two – back over there and stand with Mrs Eccles, hands behind your head, while I make these ladies more comfortable.”
As the other three watched, Ernie took a length of dirty white rope that was lying on the floor and used it to bind both Polly and Claire to the pole, passing it around their chests above and below their breasts and pulling tighter with each pass. As he did this, the material on Polly’s blouse was stretched tighter over her chest, causing some of the buttons to burst and revealing her bra to the open air. Claire could see her jacket been pressed tightly against her, the material emphasising her own chest as it was bound off.
Eventually Ernie stood up and looked at the two secured women. “Just sit there, nice and quiet, and I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said as he picked the twine up again and walked back to the others. “Right, Mrs Eccles, turn round and put your hands behind your back. Once we’ve done that, Bert and I will take care of the youngsters here.”
“I still don’t understand,” Jenny said as she felt her own wrists been bound together, “What the hell is this all about? How did you get Paul to co-operate in this – he’s a good kid, why would he do that?”
“To keep his wife and kid safe, as he said,” Bert said with a smile. “We spent a pleasant night with them. As to you – well, what we want is the contents of that nice big safe in your office, the one you know the combination to. Had it just been you and your daughter, this would have been easier, but we’re flexible, and can adapt our plans. How are we doing?”
“Give me a minute,” the other man replied from behind Jenny. It took her a moment to realise what he was doing, as she felt her elbows been pulled together behind her back, forcing her breasts to strain against her jacket front. Although they did not touch, they were close enough that it made her gasp for breathe a little.
“Beautiful stuff, Bert. Now for you two youngsters – hands behind your back and we’ll get started.”
“Please,” Caroline said as she started to sob, “Just leave us alone. We won’t say anything, but please don’t do this to us...”
“Look,” Ernie said with a smile that seemed more wicked than nice, “You do as you’re told and then we’ll leave you alone. We’re going to take your mother for a little trip, but you’ll be safe, I promise. Now, turn around and put your hands behind your back. Bert – some more lengths if you please.”
“It’s all right girls – just do as they say, and I promise I won’t let them hurt you. They’re the ones with the guns, so let’s just do what they ask.” In her own mind, Jenny had already guessed why they had been taken hostage – there was an inordinate amount of money sitting in that safe, as the annual bonuses were due to the staff on Monday. They must have found out and decided to help themselves to the cash. She watched as the two girls grunted while the thin twine was wrapped around their wrists, cutting through the material of their blouses. As Ernie tied them up, Bert watched all of them with the gun pointing at the three women and an evil grin over his face.
“You really are two little beauties,” he said as Ernie came round to stand in front of them. “We need to see a bit more of you, I think.”
“Bert, not too much now – it may get cold in here.”
“Oh stop worrying, Ernie,” he said as he stood in front of Caroline and undid the top buttons of her jacket. Taking hold of the lapels, he pulled the jacket down so that her arms were uncovered to the elbows, and the jacket itself acted as a way of holding her more firmly. Repeating the process on Mavis, he seemed to take pleasure in the way it upset her.
“That’s enough now,” Ernie said as he cut more lengths of twine from the bale, “Sit the two of them back to back, and then go and get their stuff in from the minibus before you hide it somewhere. You can leave that lad in there – he won’t be going anywhere by the looks of it.”
Jenny watched as the younger man helped Caroline and Mavis to sit on the floor, before walking out of the barn with a swagger in his step. “How are you doing, Mavis,” Polly called over as Ernie started to tie the arms of the two girls together above their elbows.
“I’m scared, but at least I’m not alone,” she said as Ernie walked round and repeated the process on the other side. He then knelt in front of Caroline and placed her ankles together, before starting to wind the twine around and between them, her boots squeaking as they were brought closer together. He then brought the ball up and passed it around the two women above their breasts, pulling their upper bodies together, before walking round and binding Mavis’ ankles in the same way.
“so long as you do what we say, they’ll be safe,” Ernie said as he stood up. “We have another friend watching from the house, so if they try anything we’ll know and if you try anything he’ll call us.”
“What about Paul’s family,” Jenny asked as she watched Bert bringing their instrument cases in. “What happened to them?”
“They’re just fine,” Ernie replied. “Don’t you worry about them – in fact, I saw them just before you arrived here. Bert, are we done yet?”
“Moving the bus now – you need to finish off in there or we’ll be late.”
“Fair enough – Mrs Eccles, I want you to look at me for a moment.” Jenny stared at Ernie as he looked straight at her. “now, your daughter and friends are going to be perfectly safe provided they don’t do anything stupid. I’m going to take you for a drive, and once we’ve finished our business I’ll send word to the right people to come and free them. Do you understand?”
She looked over at Caroline and Mavis, sat back to back on the floor, their skirts riding up slightly as they bent their knees to see what Ernie had done, and then over at the two sisters sat against the support pole. “All right, “ she said finally, “Let’s just get this over with.”
“Excellent,” he said as Bert walked back in. “Have you moved the minibus?”
“Sure – you’d better be going.”
“Fine – come with me Mrs Eccles,” Ernie said as he took the gun in one hand and Jenny by the arm with the other. “Keep brave, all of you,” she called back over her shoulder as she was led out of the barn, leaving them with Bert. Caroline watched him as he walked over to a bag, rummaged around in it for a few minutes before removing some things, and then turning back to them. “Right – who’s first,” he said with a grin as Caroline opened her eyes wide.
“Where the hell are they?”
He stood impatiently outside the concert hall, tapping his foot and looking at his watch when some of the other band members came out.
“Boss, we can’t wait any longer – they must have got stuck in traffic somewhere. What do you want to do?”
“All right – Johnny, you take lead cornet, and Dave can handle percussion. Let’s get started or we have no chance of winning this competition.”
The men turned round and walked back into the concert hall, hoping they could cope without the five missing members.
Jenny stopped in front of a Ford Anglia that was parked by the farmhouse, watching as Ernie unlocked the boot. Inside was an old checked picnic blanket, and a couple of holdalls.
“All right, Mrs Eccles – in you get. I can’t let you see where we are just yet.”
Shrugging, Jenny sat on the edge of the boot and brought her legs round, manoeuvring herself until eventually she was lying on her side looking out as Ernie smiled down at her.
“You promise the girls will be safe – I don’t like the look of that friend of yours.”
“Don’t you worry about Bert – he won’t harm them at all. Now, watch your head.”
As the boot descended, blocking out the light from outside, Jenny wondered what had happened to the others. To her astonishment, she heard two car doors opening and closing, and Bert saying “All nice and toasty warm. Let’s get to that office pronto.” The car engine started, and Jenny concentrated on surviving the journey.
Polly looked over at the two younger girls as they sat there, trying to hold each other’s hands for some measure of comfort and support. She wanted to talk to them, but that was difficult, and she was also concerned about Claire who was sat behind her. At least that young man had listened when she told him about her asthma, so she could hear her mumbling something unintelligible as opposed to her own enforced silence.
From her vantage point, Caroline could see both of the sisters, especially Claire as she sat there crying. Her long hair was held back around her cheeks by her own bowtie, which had been used to hold a handkerchief in place in her mouth. As for herself, she had been treated the same way as both Polly and Mavis. The cotton wool pads that had been forced into her mouth were swelling with the saliva, but the brown sticking plaster over her own mouth made it impossible to expel them and breathe easily.
The thin strands of twine were cutting into her skin slightly, especial around the top of her breasts were some of the buttons on her blouse had popped open and the bare skin was rubbing against the rough binding. She could hear Mavis grunting slightly, and feel the movement against her back as she tried to twist her hands free, but to no avail. The pressure on her shoulder blades increased as her friend leaned back against her, a slight whistle coming as she breathed out through her nose.
Caroline looked around the dingy barn, wondering how long they were going to be watched for when a glint of light against metal caught her eye. Staring into the distance, she could just about make out a piece of metal that was sticking out of another of the roof supports, a nail or something similar, and an idea began to form in her mind. She nudged Mavis in the back, who grunted as she twisted her head round to see what was going on. Indicating with her head, she managed eventually to point Mavis in the direction of the metal, and a grunt in response told her that her friend understood.
From the other side of the room, Claire watched through red eyes as the tow girls slowly started to shuffle in unison across the floor, a cloud of dust rising slightly as they moved their bottoms in unison towards the pillar...
“Well now, that was very helpful of you, Mrs Eccles, very helpful indeed. You saved the office from quite a bit of damage there.”
Jenny grunted back at Bert as he opened the safe door and started to load the bundles of notes into one of the holdalls. They had driven for what seemed like ages, but was only about thirty minutes, before the boot had opened and she had found herself in a car park next to their office. A coat had been thrown over her as Bert and Ernie escorted her into the building, forcing the lock to the rear entrance to get in, and then up to the main office.
Once inside, they had forced Jenny to lie down on the floor as she gave them the safe combination. As Bert turned the dials, Ernie had pulled the telephone away from the wall and used the wires to bind her ankles tightly together, a second phone providing the material to bind her legs together above her knees. Now she watched silently in the dimmed light as the safe was quickly and comprehensively emptied.
“We’re running out of time, Bert,” Ernie said as he lifted the blinds over the windows to look out. “Get a move on there.”
“All done, Ernie” the other man said as he zipped the second holdall closed and stood up. “Well, Mrs Eccles, it’s been a real pleasure to meet you, but we need to get going now. Don’t do anything rash now, or you might regret it – like this.”
He picked up a metal ruler that was sitting on a desk and swiftly brought it down on Jenny’s bottom. She grunted in surprise, any yelp suppressed by the strip of brown sticking plaster that covered the lower half of her face, as the pain of the blow started to throb.
“Well, you’ll be quiet anyway,” he said as the two men left her alone, squirming on the floor as her dress skirt rose up, and made their way out of the building.
“Mmmm.. mmmm. MM!”
It had taken them the best part of half an hour since reaching the pole, with both Caroline and Mavis slowly moving up and down against the metal and shifting their bodies around, but finally the last strand gave way and they were able to lean forward separately. They first had broken the lengths of twine that went round their chests, allowing them to kick their legs free while they worked on the loops around their arms, and now they took a moment to rest while they caught what of their breath they could. Eventually, Mavis managed to push herself onto her feet and walk over to Caroline, turning her back to her and indicating that she should bring her mouth near to her fingers.
Another five minutes of gentle peeling followed, until the tape came away from Caroline’s mouth as she was able to spit out a sodden mass of cotton wool onto the floor. “Phowar – that’s better,” she said as she got herself onto her knees. “Mavis, bring your hands over – I think I can see the knot and I might be able to undo them with my teeth.”
“G n” Claire shouted through her cloth filled mouth as Mavis looked over her shoulder, watching Caroline pick away at the thin strands with her teeth. Eventually she managed to shake them free, rubbing her wrists before reaching up and removing the tape that covered her own mouth. Caroline stood up, the knees of her tights torn and the leather on her boots scuffed, and turned her back to Mavis.
“Untie my wrists, then go and free the others,” she said as she looked over at them, Claire nodding as Polly slowly raised her head from her chest. “I’ll go and see if there’s a phone in the farmhouse.”
“Got it,” Mavis said as she hurried over to the pole, untying Claire’s bow tie and removing the cloth from her mouth as Caroline slowly made her way out of the barn. There was no sign of life anywhere, and the only sound she heard was cattle in some pasture a way off. “Probably left, the cowards,” she thought to herself as she walked quickly over to the farmhouse, which looked quite dilapidated as she came closer.
The door was unlocked, and as she opened it Caroline could see dust hanging in the air inside.
“Hello,” she called out, “Is there anybody here?” It seemed as if she had no response,. But as she started to call out again she heard something breaking behind one of the doors that led off the corridor. Slowly, she walked down towards the door and placed her hand on the door knob, turning it to allow the door to open.
“Hello?” she called out again, and this time she heard a muffled cry. Looking round the wooden door, she saw in the dim light someone sitting in a chair, staring back at her. “Are you all right?” she said as she walked forward, but as her eyes adjusted to the light she could see the young woman was most definitely not all right.
She was in her late twenties, with long strawberry blonde hair, and was wearing a blur brinylon quilted dressing gown. Her eyes were wide, and tear stains were clearly visible down her cheeks and over the brown strip that covered her mouth. Coils of yellow nylon rope had been used to secure her to the chair, with her arms pinned behind the back support and her ankles pulled up underneath the seat. She was trying to talk, but the covering over her mouth made it almost impossible.
“Hang on,” Caroline said as she walked forward and took hold of a corner of the strip. She peeled it away from the captive woman’s mouth, and pulled a small cloth out from behind it as the tape came away.
“Cathy,” she cried out, “where’s my Cathy? We were both brought here, but I haven’t seen her. Please, where is she?”
“I’m sorry, but who’s Cathy? Paul was forced to bring us...”
“Paul – where is he? Where’s my husband?”
“Ah,” Caroline said as Mavis came in, “You’re his wife? So Cathy’s your daughter?”
“Yes – please, she’s only a little girl, I have to find her...”
“Mavis, can you cut her free while I look for the kid,” Caroline said. “No problem – Polly’s looking to see if there’s a working telephone anywhere. Don’t worry, I’ll get you of there soon.” Mavis knelt down and started to untie the knots behind the frightened mother as Caroline went off to search the other rooms.
“In second place, the Rawtenstall and district brass band!”
The audience applauded as the band leader went forward to accept the trophy, while the other members looked on.
“Any word on the girls yet?” was the general question as two policemen appeared in the wings and motioned to one of the band members.
“Can I help you, officers,” he said as he walked quietly over.
“We need to speak to your conductor,” one of them said. “We found an abandoned minibus, with a man unconscious inside, and he claims he was forced to take some of your band members on a trip against their will...”
“Not a working phone in the place,” Claire said as Caroline came back into the room with a young girl.
“Mum,” she shouted as she ran over to the woman in the chair, the two of them embracing each other. Caroline looked at the other three women, their dishevelled uniforms the only indication of what had happened.
“Do you hear that?” Mavis said as the sound of cars became clearer. Moving quickly outside, they watched as flashing blue lights appeared at the end of the road to the farmhouse.
It was another hour before they eventually found an exhausted Jenny on the floor of the office. Her jacket had come undone and fallen down her arms, but there had been no give in the ropes that held her wrists and legs firmly together. As they removed the gag and helped her to have a drink, her first concern naturally was for her daughter and friends.
“They’re safe – we’ve taken them to hospital, and we’ll take you there soon. What happened here?”
“Robbery, of course,” she gasped as the twine around her wrists was cut. “Just get me to Caroline.”
“That’s where we’re going now,” the policeman said as he helped her to her feet. “We’ll talk to you about this later. Oh yeah – I’ve got a message for you.”
“What’s that,” Jenny said as she stumbled to the door.
“You came second.”
“Stuff that,” she mumbled under her breath as she slowly left the scene.