He looked up as the two detectives came back into the interview room, and stubbed out his cigarette.
“We found the collection where you said it was – there are quite a few local forces would like to talk to you, Steve.”
“I’m sure there are, but it’s worth it to get my name cleared of this kidnapping rap.”
The lead detective took a cigarette and lit up.
“Why don’t you go over it from the top again?”
Steve Haslam was a rep for a large industrial firm. As such, he had to travel the area a lot, so every Monday he would kiss his wife and head off on a four day road trip, visiting clients, staying in motels and returning Thursday evening before reporting into the local office on the Friday.
He was a loving man, a caring husband and a good father. He was also a secret collector, and had a passion he liked to indulge as he travelled around the area. Some people would probably find it strange – in fact, most would – but he never harmed physically the people he visited and he was always kind to them.
As eh drove into the town of Blaylock on the Wednesday morning, he felt that this may be a good day to indulge in his hobby, and as he arrived at the firm he was visiting he looked around at the employees that were in attendance. The usual mix of people, but one in particular caught his eye – the secretary of the manager.
She was in her early thirties, short cropped brown hair and about five foot ten in height. As she greeted him at her desk, he looked at her brown floral blouse, with the dark brown scarf tied in her hair. She stood up, her pale brown corduroy skirt moving in the air as she walked and led him into the office.
Yes, he was going to enjoy visiting her that night.
Steve booked into the hotel, and took his suitcase up to his room. As always, he unpacked and carefully hung up his clothes for the next day, as well as placing his pyjamas on the bed, before placing certain items into a small rucksack and turning the television on. As the screen came to life, Steve noticed that a local news bulletin was on, and sat down to listen.
“Police are searching for two teenagers who disappeared on their way home from High School this evening. Natalie Cassidy and Polly James were last seen leaving the school at 3.30, but did not return home. Police Chief McGruder made the following statement earlier today.”
Steve sat down and watched as the local chief, a burly man in his fifties, came on camera.
“This is just the latest of a rash of recent disappearances, and I urge the public to look out for any signs of either girl.”
Photos of the two girls, smiling and waving, came on screen.
“Our cars are patrolling the streets in the search for Natalie and Polly, and we urge anyone with any information to come forward.”
Steve made his way to the shower, after checking the clothes he would put on were laid out.
“I’ll need to be careful later,” he said as he stepped under the running water.
Kathy kicked closed the door of her car and walked towards her door, carrying her shopping in one hand as she looked in her handbag for her keys. The street was dark, as the sunset completed on the horizon. Eventually finding the set, she opened the door and turned the passage light on.
Making her way to the kitchen, she deposited the brown paper bag on the table and took off her jacket, placing it on the back of the chair. Opening the fridge door, she took a carton of milk and placed it in the rack, before closing the door and seeing the man standing there.
He was wearing a black roll neck sweater, dark trousers and trainers, but the thing Kathy saw first of his apparel was the black balaclava mask over his face, showing only his eyes and mouth. They were blue eyes, and looked kind, but she still started to scream.
Steve quickly walked forward, placed a gloved hand over Kathy’s mouth as he pushed her against the fridge, and whispered “Don’t panic or scream. I promise you that I am not going to hurt you – I just want to rob you. If you do as I ask, then everything will be all right.”
Kathy squirmed under his grip, but Steve held her firmly. “Look, lady, I promise you you will be all right. I’m not into hurting women or harming them – I just want your stuff. Now, are you going to stop squirming?”
“Hm-mm” Kathy mumbled.
“I’m going to take my hand away. Do you promise not to scream?”
Steve removed his hand from Kathy’s mouth, but kept hold of her hand as they stood there. Kathy stayed quiet for a few minutes, and then said “Who are you?”
“Just a man, who likes women and the things they have,” Steve replied as he smiled. “Now, will you do as I say?”
“Yes,” Kathy whispered.
“Very good, why don’t we go into the front room? You can close the curtains and turn the light on, and then I’ll make you comfortable.”
Leading Kathy by the hand, the two of them made their way into the front of the house. There was little street light outside, so Steve stayed by her as Kathy closed the blinds and then turned a lamp on, the light dimly illuminating the room.
“How did you get in?” she asked as Steve took her over to a recliner and sat her down on it.
“You need a better lock on your back door,” he answered as he took a small rucksack from his back. “Please, take your boots off – you must be uncomfortable with them on.”
Kathy reached down and pulled off the short suede boots that she was wearing, revealing a pair of sports socks over her feet. “What are you going to do to me?” she asked.
“Will you do as I ask?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Steve laughed. “Please, take the scarf off that you are wearing, shake it out and roll it into a small ball.”
Wondering what was going to happen, Kathy reached up and untied the scarf, before shaking it out and rolling it as asked.
“Now,” Steve said as he took a roll of sliver duct tape from his bag, “Put it into your mouth, and then lie down on the recliner.”
“Oh my god, not, please….” Kathy said, but Steve put a hand on her shoulder.
“If I was thinking of raping you, we would be in your bedroom, not here. Now, put the scarf in your mouth and lie face down.”
Doing as she was asked, Kathy lay face down, the edges of her scarf protruding slightly from between her lips. Steve stood over her, gently crossed her wrists in the small of her back and began to wind the tape around them, pulling them together and holding them tightly. She grunted slightly as he did the same thing to her ankles, wrapping the tape around her sock covered feet as well, before her helped her to sit up.
“All right, don’t move, “ he said as he took the roll and started to pass it around her arms and chest, pinning her wrists into the small of her back as he did so. Laying her back don on her back, he placed a cushion under her head and then lifted the hem of her long skirt up. As she watched, her taped her legs together, and then lifted the skirt back down.
This was Steve’s real passion – he loved to leave the women he visited helpless and unable to call for help while he had a look around their houses. He never really took much, just a couple of small things as souvenirs to remember each one.
“I’m going to turn the television on,” he said as he tore a strip off the roll and placed it over Kathy’s lips. “You just relax while I have a look around.” He left the bound and gagged woman on the recliner, struggling as he ascended the staircase.
As he searched the house, he became aware of the number of police cars that were driving up and down the street. “These missing girls must be a real issue,” he mumbled to himself as he pocketed a pair of earrings from Kathy’s jewellery case. Coming back down the staircase, he watched as the local news showed Chief McGruder walking back into the police station.
Kathy looked up at Steve as he packed his rucksack, and mumbled “u wntgt wy”.
“Do you think that I won’t escape the police?” Steve said with a smile, but he genuinely was worried about the large force presence. On a whim, he picked up the local telephone directory. As he looked through the pages, he glanced down and saw a picture of the police chief, smiling with two women by his side at a local event.
“Maybe I’ll make a second stop tonight,” he said as he wrote an address down on a piece of paper. “Nice to have met you, my dear,” he said as he kissed Kathy on the forehead and left her lying there, the television playing as he slipped out the back.
Making his way down the back alley, he took the balaclava off and looked cautiously across the street to the bar where his car was parked. Walking over, he climbed in and punched a zip code into his car’s navigation system.
“If the police chief is so busy, his house will be the perfect place to hide – and I’m sure his family won’t object,” he said as he drove off, passing several police cars on the way.
The McGruder house was in an estate that was typically American – big lawns, long drives and quiet. That suited Steve, as he climbed out of his car and ducked down some back alleys before climbing the chain fence at the back.
Cautiously walking up to the back door, he forced the lock with his pan knife and quietly slipped in. The house was in darkness, and there was no sound as Steve slipped into the front room. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was only 9.30.
“Early to bed,” he thought. While he preferred his women to be dressed, there had been occasions when he had left them in their nightdresses or pyjamas, usually when he had had to work late or meet a client, so he thought nothing of it as he walked up the stairs.
At the top of the landing, Steve could hear faint noises coming from the master bedroom. Smiling, he slowly opened the door and looked in, not expecting the sight he saw on the large bed.
There were two girls sat back to back on the bed, and even in the gloom Steve could recognise the two girls that had disappeared, Natalie Cassidy and Polly James. Natalie was wearing a long white t-shirt with a silver tiger print on the front, black leggings and knee length grey felt boots. She looked at the new arrival through her black rimmed glasses, and tried to call out. The large white cloth over her lower jaw seemed to be muffling what she was saying.
Polly looked up and round when she heard Natalie. She was wearing a blue top designed to look like a sailor shirt, with a little bow below the neck, tight denim shorts and dark tights. She was wearing black short boots, made from some form of thick corduroy material with turned down cuffs and large buttons. She too had a large blue cloth tied over her mouth, and started to make mumbled noise.
Steve stood back and looked at the two girls. Their arms were pinned behind their backs, and there were lengths of rope tied around their waists, chest and arms with short ropes tied between them to tighten the binding. Their ankles were tied and crossed with thick rope, which left deep grooves in Natalie’s boots and seemed to provide a band across Polly’s legs. Their legs were also bound above and below their knees, with rope between their legs.
Steve walked over and pulled down the white cloth on Natalie’s mouth, revealing a large knotted bandana that was tied into her mouth. As he took the knot out of her mouth and eased it down around her neck, Steve drew a large handkerchief out of her mouth and stood back as she coughed, then hoarsely whispered “Behind you.”
“Smart girl, Natalie,” a voice said from behind Steve as he felt the cold metal in his back. “Can I trust you and Polly to keep quiet if I take your gags off?”
“Yes,” Natalie whispered. Steve watched as Chief McGruder walked round, his gun levelled at him, before he leaned over and pulled the gag out of Polly’s mouth.
“Where’s Hannah?” she whispered.
“I don’t know, but you two stay here while I have a chat with this young man. You – downstairs, and no funny moves.”
Steve turned round and walked down the stairs, the Chief behind him, as they made their way into the front room. McGruder motioned for Steve to sit down, before closing the blinds and turning the light on.
“Drink,” he said as he took a bottle of whiskey and two glasses out. Filling them both, he passed one to Steve and emptied his in one gulp.
“What the hell is going on here,” Steve asked as McGruder refilled his glass and sat down.
“I’ve heard of you – a man who goes around tying up women and taking their trinkets. Always treats them with courtesy, never hurts them. I wondered if you would ever show up here – but I never expected when the silent alarm went off in my car to find you here.”
“I’m not going to deny that,” Steve said as he took a sip “and I’ll keep the glass if you don’t mind, but why the hell are the missing students in your house?”
McGruder took another gulp from his glass. “You’re not the only problem we’ve had in this state recently. Did you pass the bank on your way here?”
“Good – I need your help with something. Listen carefully…..
“When I heard from my boys about Polly and Natalie going missing, I came straight home to check on Hannah.”
“My daughter – she’s in the same grade as those two. Well, I got back here about four o’clock, after I did that news thing earlier, but I found a little surprise waiting for me.
“If you can call four armed and masked men in my front room, with Hannah and my wife sitting down and their hands handcuffed behind their backs a little surprise. I felt a gun in my back as I stood there, and realised there was a fifth person present.
“He told me that they had taken the two girls, and that they were part of their plan to rob the bank. They had nothing to do with the gang or us – they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A van had pulled up, and they had been bundled in and trussed up.
“I asked why they were there, but what they said made me angry and frightened. This was obviously something they had done before elsewhere – the two girls upstairs were only the first part of the plan. As my two looked on, they explained that Hannah and her mother were going to be the real hostages.
“They were going to leave Natalie and Polly here, and take Hannah and my wife with them. I looked at the two of them there. Hannah was still in the clothes she had worn to high school that day – pale blue t-shirt over a pick ling sleeved top, jeans and sneakers, while my wife was wearing a sundress and sandals. They could not talk – scarves had been stuffed into their mouths and what looked like a pair of my wife’s stockings used to hold them in place.
“As the leader talked, two of the gang went out, and through the door I could see them carrying Natalie in. She was blindfolded at the time, but otherwise as you found her. As Polly followed, the other two took Hannah and her mother and forced them to stand up, before frogmarching them out of the room. The leader told me to keep all the squad cars out on the streets, and they would release my girls once the job was done.”
Steve took another drink of his whiskey. “My god – I’ve hard of the families of bank managers held hostage, but the chief of police? What did you do?”
“What can I do? I came upstairs saw the girls bound back to back on the bed and removed their blindfolds. As they looked at me, I explained what had happened and asked them to be patient while I tried to figure out what to do.”
“And have you figured out what to do?”
“Now I have – but I’m going to need your help.”
“In return for?”
“Forgetting about what you may or may not have done in my town tonight. Will you help me?”
Steve thought for a moment, before he nodded. Chief McGruder threw him a set of car keys.
“My car is parked out back. We’re going to untie the two girls, and you’re going to drive them to the next town and take them to the police station there. When you arrive, call me on this number.”
McGruder handed Steve a slip of paper.
“We’ll move in when you call, but hurry – you only have an hour or so.”
“So, I drove the girls here and handed myself in. What did McGruder say?”
“He and his men got the gang. His wife and daughter were still in the back of the van, hogtied and gagged. They’re in hospital for checks, but they should be all right.”
The detective put out his cigarette.
“The chief says he’ll keep his word. I don’t want to know where those things came from either. That gang have hit several towns in the last few weeks, and compared to them you’re small fry. You’re free to go.”
Steve stood up, but as he passed the second detective the man stopped him.
“I wonder if you can do me a favour – a little surprise for the wife…”