“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to London Heathrow, where the local time is 6.05 am. We hope you had a pleasant flight with us, and on behalf of Captain Trent and the crew we wish you a pleasant…”
Mandy Moore wasn’t really paying attention to the announcement as she stretched out in her first class seat. She hated flying, and particularly the overnight flights home from the US, but the life of a model wasn’t just about the glamour and the parties. As the seatbelt light went off, she stood up and opened the overhead locker, retrieving her patent leather boots. Sitting back down, she was zipping them up when Alicia, the Chief Purser, came over.
“Your car will be waiting for you as soon as you clear customs, Miss Moore. I hope you had a good flight?”
“No worse than usual,” she mumbled as she pulled on her fur coat. “Have a nice day.”
“I hope you do as well, and we look forward to flying with you again.” As Mandy sashayed down the plane, Alicia took out a mobile phone and dialled a number.
“Six foot two, dark hair, long fur coat and black boots,” she said before disconnecting the call.
Some fifteen minutes later, Mandy was being escorted to her waiting car, an attendant pushing a trolley behind with her bags. As she crossed the concourse to head towards the car park, other passengers were following, carrying their own bags. Just inside the car park, the attendant stopped while a uniformed chauffer loaded the bags into a silver Daimler. Mandy climbed into the bag, watched by a young man who was casually dressed. As the car drove off, he dialled a number on his phone and spoke quickly into it, hanging up and hailing a taxi as he did so.
Another half hour passed before the Daimler drew up outside a detached house in Knightsbridge, and the chauffer opened the door to let Mandy out. She rubbed her eyes and yawned as she headed up the path, the chauffer following with her bags. A few yards away, a non-descript grey van pulled up to the kerb.
“Thanks, Geoff – I’ll see you in two hours,” Mandy said as she waved the driver off and closed the door to the house. Taking off her fur coat, she threw it over a chair as she went to turn the television on, only for a ring on the door bell to disturb her.
“Just a minute,” she said wearily as she walked back to the door, the heels of her boots clicking on the marble flooring. Yawning one last time, she opened the door and started to say “What is it?”
“What she actually said was “Whh..” as two masked men grabbed her by the arms and pulled her into the house, followed by a third man who closed the door behind them. Mandy was pushed into the living room, protesting all the time, and made to lie face down while the blinds to her front room were drawn.
The third man then took a number of plastic zip ties out of his pocket, and as her wrists were held together behind her back Mandy felt them been pulled together with the rasping sound of the tie being tightened. Another tie was placed around her crossed ankles, and then her legs pulled back so that her wrists and ankles were secured together with a third tie.
“What the fuck is going on?” she screamed as she was rolled onto her side, and got her first good look at the intruders. All three were dressed in suits, smart ones with neat shirts and ties, but also with full face masks over their heads of Tony Blair. One of the men took a roll of medical tape from a jacket pocket, tore a long wide strip off and held it in front of Mandy. She stared silently back as it was smoothed over her rouged lips, with three more s trips following, and then a final strip placed over her eyes as a blindfold.
She lay there, listening to the sound of their shoe son the floor and what sounded like the forcing open of suitcases. Despite her struggles, there was no way she was able to free herself from the tight bindings, and eventually she gave up as the sound of the front door opening and closing came through. She lay there, wondering how long it would be until her assistant came round, when she heard the door open again.
“Many, are you there? How was the flight… OHMYGODMANDYWHATHAPPENED!!!”
She felt the tape being removed from her eyes, and she opened her eyelids to se the contents of her luggage scattered all over the room floor. As her assistant removed the gag, she noticed that her small cosmetic and jewellery bags were also missing, and realised she had been robbed before she had had a chance to place them in the safe.
“There,” the blonde haired girl said as she cut the plastic ties with a set of scissors from the kitchen. “I’ve called the police – you rest in the chair.”
Alicia walked into the room and left her carry case against the wall. Sitting around the table were three smartly dressed men, one of whom came over and kissed her on the lips.
“Excellent choice as always, Alicia – she never knew what hit her.”
“Poor dear didn’t get much sleep – I suppose she thought she would rest when she got home. Nice little haul, though.”
She picked up some of the jewellery that was lying on the table and examined it carefully. The life of a stewardess was hard, and the pay good, but this was a nice little side earner that she and her “boys” had been doing for about a year now. It had been her boyfriend who suggested it – identify someone on the overnight flight who would make a soft target, phone the description through to her boyfriend who would follow the mark, tell his friends what car or taxi they were in, and follow them home. Give them five minutes after the door closed, ring the bell and voila – easy robbery for all.
In Alicia’s case, it paid for her sister’s fees at that expensive private school on the south coast – or at least, the English takings did. What her partners did not know about was the American side of her operation – the one she personally took care of, and gave her an even greater thrill than the UK visits, which she never took part in.
That had started when one particularly obnoxious customer in First on the Los Angeles run had insulted her in front of everyone. She had snuck a look at her green card, seen which hotel she was staying in, and paid her an unexpected visit in her room that night. Since then, she had done the same with one carefully selected person each time – just to make a little eon the side, you know.
That would prove to be the start of a bigger problem for her, but as she looked at the diamonds that morning she had no inkling, no idea of what was going to happen within the week.
“So, you got some time off now?”
Alicia looked at her boyfriend. “Three days – then I get the Seattle run. Two days off there, and then back again. It should be as good as always.”
“I don’t understand why you have to go back so early.”
As Alicia adjusted the scarf around her neck, her younger sister Jenny was sitting at the breakfast bar finishing her cereal. She had come down for a weekend visit, but was preparing to take the train back to St Blazius that day. As a sixth former, she had the privilege of not needing to wear school uniform, so she was wearing a white long sleeved top under a faded denim sleeveless dress, jeans and brown Ugg boots.
“Because, my dear sister, it takes at least an hour for me to get to the airport, and another hour to get through our own security,” Alicia responded as she turned and smiled.
“Still putting on the commercial grin, then?”
“A necessity for the job – I’ll call you from Seattle tomorrow.”
Jenny watched as Alicia took the handle of her travelling case and headed out to the waiting taxi. “Can I bring you back anything?2 she called over her shoulder as she stood in the doorway.
“Coffee – and decent stuff this time,” Jenny called back as Alicia shut the door. Finishing her drink, she washed the cup in the sink and went to finish her own packing.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your chief purser speaking. The cabin crew are now passing amongst you and distributing US Border and custom forms for you to complete…
Alicia walked up and down the Business section, handing out the appropriate landing and custom forms to the passengers. One in particular called her over a few minutes later – a young woman with short red hair, dressed in a linen skirt and frilled blouse.
“I’m sorry – I seem to have made a mistake. Could you let me have another form please?”
“Of course, Madame,” Alicia said, “if you like, I can take your old form and destroy it.”
She looked at the green card she was handed. “Oh, I see – you put your date of birth the wrong way round. It is a common mistake, Miss Hunter.”
“Thanks,” the young woman said as she went back to watching the film. Alicia walked down to the galley, retrieved her handbag and slipped the green card inside. “Gotcha,” she thought as she returned to her duties.
As the plane came in over the shoreline to Seattle airport and touched down, Alicia stood in the doorway, saying goodbye to the passengers as they walked out and paying special attention to Diane Hunter as she disembarked. She glanced after her as she walked up the gangway, and made a mental note to drop into her hotel later that day.
“Are you all right Alicia?” she heard one of her colleagues saying, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Sorry – just thinking about what to do tonight. I’m too pooped to go out – maybe I’ll just get an early night and enjoy the layover tomorrow.”
The centre of Seattle was like most cities, in the grid formation of the streets and the conglomeration of large hotels around the convention centre. It was unlike most other cities in two ways – the huge Science Park where the Space Needle marked the site of a previous World ’s Fair, and the park that covered much of the freeway that ran through the city centre. It was there that Alicia was sat the next morning, looking up at the Hilton and wondering which room her mark was in as she ate her breakfast.
Placing her bag into the waste bin, she stood up, brushed the crumbs off her leather trousers, and walked down the pathway that led past the convention centre to the hotel. Entering the marbled entrance area, she walked over to the reception desk and talked to the desk clerk.
“Hi there – I’m meeting a friend this morning for breakfast, but the silly girl forgot to give me her room number. Can you tell me which room Miss Diane Hunter is in?”
The clerk looked at the tall, blonde haired woman looking at him through her dark sunglasses. She was wearing tight black leather trousers, a white roll neck sweater and a scarf tied around her neck like a shawl.
“Let me just see – yes, room 1241. Would you like me to call up for you?”
“No, thank you,” Alicia said with a smile, “I want to surprise her.” She walked over to the lifts, her heels clicking on the stone floor, and waited for the door to open, Stepping inside, she smiled at the clerk as the doors closed to. She stood patiently, waiting for the doors to open on the 12th floor, then stepped out and made her way to room 1241.
Checking both ways in the corridor, Alicia turned her scarf around so that the knotted ends were at the base of her neck, and pulled it up so that the material covered the lower half of her face. She reached into her handbag, pulling out a small pistol, and knocked on the door.
“Yes?” a voice called from the other side.
“Just a minute,” the voice replied, and Alicia waited in anticipation as the door was unlocked. As the door opened, Alicia pushed it all the way in and walked quickly in, grabbing the young woman who was standing behind and pinning her against the wall with the gun against her head.
“Not a fucking word, or this goes off,” she said in a deep voice as Diane Hunter looked back at her. She was wearing a white t-short and a pair of faded denim jeans, with the legs tucked into brown suede boots, and looked as if she had been about to head out.
“Now, are you going to do exactly what I tell you?” Alicia said as she stared into the woman’s blue eyes. Diane nodded her head, as Alicia forced her back into the bedroom. She pushed Diane onto the bed and stood in front of her, the pistol levelled at her head all the time.
“Here,” Alicia said as she pulled a plastic bag out of her shoulder bag and tossed it over to Diane, “Take the cloth out and put it into your mouth – I don’t want you raising the alarm.”
“IF this is a robbery, then tale my stuff, but you’ll be making a big mistake,” Diane said as she drew a blue silk scarf out of the plastic. “I said put it in your mouth and shut up,” Alicia said in a menacing tone, so Diane balled the scarf up and did as she was asked. When her lips closed over the cloth, Alicia took out a roll of black tape and tossed it over to her.
“Tear off three strips, one at a time, and put them over your lips,” Alicia ordered her. Diane kept looking at her attacker, as if she was memorising every detail, while tearing off the tape and placing it over her mouth to keep the cloth in place.
“All right – now, tape your ankles together and then your legs – and do it properly, because if I have to redo it you will regret it.”
Diane went to remove her boots, but Alicia came forward and said “No – over the boots, and over your feet as well.” Diane shot a look at Alicia of anger, then bound her legs as she had been directed. As she threw the roll of tape down, Alicia walked over, checked the bonds, then said “turn with your back to me and put your hands behind your back.”
Ten minutes later, Alicia tore off the tape and smoothed it behind Diane’s back, having taped her arms tightly to her side, then pulled her legs up so that she was lying on her side on the bed. Quickly, Alicia searched through the desk and luggage, placing various items in her bag, then picked up the laptop bag and made for the door.
“So long, lady,” she said as she went out, closing the door behind her. Diane lay there for a few minutes, looking down at the tape around her body, then felt with the fingers of one hand for her watch which was still on her left wrist. Finding the button that allowed her to adjust the time, she pressed it three times fast, three times slowly and three times fast, then lay back and tried to relax.
Alicia walked out of the lobby, quickly heading for the exit. As she went through the doorway, a man sitting in the lobby stood up and quickly followed her out, trailing her from a distance, while his companion headed for the lift.
In her hotel room, Alicia placed the jewellery in a secret compartment in her case, and looked at the laptop. “I’ll need to take this downtown,” she mumbled to herself as she put the bag in her wardrobe, and made for her own door. As she opened it, she was surprised to see Diane Hunter standing there, with a tall man standing next to her.
“I wondered if it was you under that scarf,” she said as the man took Alicia by the wrist and pushed her into the room, Diane coming behind. “You owe me for a new pair of suede boots, lady – but my compliments to you on your mode of attack.”
“Miss Hunter, I don’t know what you mean,” Alicia said as she was made to sit in a chair, the man standing behind her all the time. “I haven’t seen you since the flight yesterday.”
“Really,” Diane said as she looked at Alicia, who had now changed into a short black leather skirt and a cap sleeved t-shirt. “Then tell me, how do you explain my laptop in your room?” She opened the cupboard door and withdrew the bag, placing it on the bed. Alicia looked at her in surprise.
“A tracking device built into the motherboard,” Diane said in answer to the unasked question. “You really have no idea what you’ve stumbled into, have you? Gerald – make her comfortable while I explain.”
The man took two white zip ties from his pocket, and used them to secure Alicia’s wrists to the arms of the chair she was sat in, while Diane poured herself a drink from the bottle of water on the table.
“All right, you got me – do you want your jewellery back as well, or is this a case for the cops?”
Diane smiled. “No, I do not want the police involved – they may ask some awkward questions. You can keep them – but I do want you to do something for me?”
“We’ve checked up on you, Miss Alicia Harmond. One sister, at school, and you do this to pay her fees?”
“Jenny? What has this to do with her?”
“You’ll see – ah,” Diane paused as Alicia’s mobile started to ring, “Why don’t you take that call. Gerald – hold the handset for her, will you?”
Alicia looked at Diane, then Gerald as he held the phone to her ear.
“Ali? Ali, you’ve got to help me, I dontmmmppphh…”
Gerald shut the phone as Alicia looked at her captor. “What the hell have you done with my sister, you bitch!” she shouted as she struggled to get her hand free.
“Temper, temper,” Diane said with a smile. “We’ve known of your activities in the UK for some time, and I was going to contact you anyway, but you picking me for your own purposes here merely – accelerated our timetable. Now, are you going to sit quietly while I explain what’s going to happen?”
“Where is she?”
“My boss has asked some friends to take good care of her, and they will – provided you do exactly what I tell you. Do you understand?”
“All right – what do you want?”
Diane smiled. “We only want you to do what you do every time you fly back over the water – but this time we pick the target, and you pick up an extra item for us. Understand?”
Alicia nodded. “Do I have a choice?”
“No – not really,” Diane smiled as she sat opposite Alicia. “Now, here’s what we want you to do….”
Jenny looked up at her two captors as they talked at the table. She had been snatched off the street on her way back to St Balzius by the men, and bundled into the back of a grey van where she had been gagged and blindfolded with tape. Now she sat there, her arms taped from wrist to elbow to the heavy oak chair she was sat in, and her legs taped from ankle to knee against the leg. The blindfold had been removed, but her masked captors showed no sign of communicating with her or even relieving her terrible thirst. She tried to relax, wondering just what was going on for this to happen.
“My god Alicia, what happened to you? Bad night?”
“I’ve had worse,” she lied as she looked in the mirror and adjusted her neck scarf. She had spent the night in the delightful company of Diane and Gerald, who had made it very very clear what would happen if she tried anything to stop what they wanted her to do happening. Now, as she looked in the mirror, she had an idea.
“Sally, if I ask you to do something for me, will you do it, no question asked?”
“Of course – what do you want?”
“Send this message to this number, just as I have written it down.”
Her colleague took the slip of paper and read it. “They will understand this?” she said as she looked up.
“Yes – and please, do it now before we leave for the plane.”
Sally shrugged, took her phone out of her handbag and sent the message she had been given. Closing her phone down, Alicia said “Thank you” as they gathered their cases and made their way to the plane.
AS the passengers boarded, Alicia was not surprised to see Gerald walk into the first class cabin and take a seat. It figured that one of them would be on the plane to “keep an eye on her” as they so politely put it. Her attention was taken by a woman in her thirties who took the seat on the opposite side of the plan. She was wearing a brown leather jacket and jeans, and at that point was placing a laptop bag in the overhead locker. Alicia walked over and asked “Can I help you with that, Madame?”
“No, I’ll be all right,” she said with a smile as she took her shoes off and placed them in the locker beside the bag, Alicia walked back to the galley, glancing at Gerald who smiled as she went past.
The pilot gave the usual welcome to the passengers as the plane taxied from the gate, Alicia taking her position for the safety demonstration and wondering about the long night ahead.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are now making our final descent into London Heathrow airport. If you would please…
The plane made a smooth landing on the tarmac and slowed to a taxi speed as Alicia unbuckled herself from her seat. The various passengers sat quietly until the plane came to a standstill, and then began to gather their belongings. Gerald was the first to arise, and was waiting as Alicia opened the cabin door.
“See you later,” he said with a smile as he disembarked, followed by the other passengers. As the woman in jeans passed Alicia smiled and wished her a pleasant day, before making a phone call.
“Female, five foot ten, brown leather jacket and jeans with short boots, carrying laptop bag.”
She put her phone back into her bag, hoping the other message had also got through in time.
The taxi drew up in front of a block of flats in Henley, as the woman got out and made her weary way to the front door. From a distance, a young man watched as she unlocked the door, then to which light came on in the morning gloom. A van drew up beside him, and he jumped in as the door opened.
“Third floor, door on left. Any idea what Alicia wants the device for?”
“No idea – we’ll find out when we meet up. Let’s get this over with.”
They drove round to the back of the block, and parked by the service entrance. Three men got out, dressed in suits, and made their way into the building, placing masks over their heads as they took the lift to the third floor.
She had just emerged from the toilet when the door bell rang, and she was expecting her neighbour to drop off some parcels she had ordered. So she had no suspicions at all when she opened the door of what was about to happen. Now, some ten minutes later, she was lying on her couch, watching the three men ransacking her luggage as she struggled to try and free herself from the zip ties around her wrists, ankles and legs. The sticking plaster over her mouth was muting her protests nicely as well – especially when they picked up her laptop and left with that and her valuables. This worried her more than anything – what was on that laptop was nothing to do with some petty common thieves, and everything to do with her own security and that of the nation.
“There you are” her boyfriend said as Alicia joined them in the house an hour or so later. “What’s going on – and why the laptop?”
“I’ll explain later – did you get the message?”
“Yes, and it’s in place. They’ll be waiting – but what’s going on?”
“I’ve no time,” Alicia said as she left the room, “I need to get changed and go somewhere – I really will explain later, just trust me.”
Jenny had been travelling in the boot of the car for some time when it finally came to a halt. She lay there, remembering her lessons and wondering what was going on now, as the car doors opened and closed.
What she wasn’t able to see was the two men meeting Gerald as Alicia drove into the car park. She stopped her car, looked in the rear view mirror at the three men and got out, pulling her long denim coat around herself as she did so. She walked round and stood in front of her car boot.
“Do you have it?” Gerald said.
“Yes – but I want my sister back first.”
He nodded to the two men, who opened the car boot and helped Jenny to get out. She had a thick black scarf tied into her mouth, and her wrists tied together behind her back.
“Are you all right, Jenny?” Alicia asked as she looked at her standing there in her jeans and t-shirt. Her sister nodded, with a look in her eyes that said “What’s going on?”
Alicia said nothing, but opened her boot and withdrew the laptop. “We walk into the middle – I give you the case, you give me my sister. Agreed?”
Gerald nodded, and as one of the men took Jenny by the arm and walked into the middle of the open area Alicia walked to meet them. She held the bag out, and took Jenny by her free arm, quickly taking her back to the car.
Alicia turned and looked at Gerald.
“We leave first, if you don’t mind.”
“Be my guest,” Alicia said as she helped Jenny to sit in the passenger seat of her car, then climbed in and reached over to untie her hands.
“Alicia, what the hell is going on?” Jenny said as she pulled the gag from her mouth.
“You don’t need to worry anymore,” Alicia said as she watched the other car drive off. “It’s over now, and they won’t hurt you again.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because, sis, that bag is carrying a homing device that will make sure some very bad people find them first. Never should have given me that idea,” she said as she started the car and drove off. “Meanwhile, there’s a few things I need to tell you about at home…”