The car park was half empty as the sun was starting to come up, when the three cars drove up and parked near to the grey van. From the van, the driver watched as one by one the men got out of their cars and walked over, climbing into the back and nodding to the masked woman who was sitting waiting for them.
Once all three were in, the driver turned and came to join them. “Good morning everyone.”
“Morning Jay, Mrs McPhee,” one of the three men said to them, “What do we have today?”
“A slightly different case, hence my request for you to be available all day today.” Jay Edwards smiled, and then continued to say in his Geordie accent, “Both the parents are involved in the financial markets, for different companies, so we’re going to stop in at home, take them hostage as they return from various things, and then one by one take the parents to do our bidding.”
“Won’t that mean leaving the children on their own? That’s not like you Jay.”
“Not really – the oldest daughter, Kelly, is seventeen, so she can act as babysitter for them once Mummy had gone with you. Now, get ready – we need to drive out to the depths of Essex for this one…”
The Balding house was surrounded by a high wall, but on a Saturday the family tended to keep the front gates open – it was a delivery day, and Tabitha Balding preferred for them to enter and leave quickly. A senior trader at a London financial house, she had earned a small fortune over the years, much of which was invested alongside that of her husband James in the house and their family. James was a senior area manager for one of the bigger banks.
It was ten thirty, and she was sat at the computer in her home office, dressed in a cream vintage style dress with a layered and ruffled skirt, and a wrap round upper half held closed by a sash round her waist. A pair of long laced black leather boots was on her legs, in case she needed to go outside for anything.
In the main room downstairs, her twelve year old daughter Maisie was sitting watching television, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her orange top had some writing in a psychedelic style on the front, while the legs of her jeans were tucked into a pair of knee length black leather boots.
Neither of them noticed the grey van as it pulled up outside the house, or the four men and one woman who got out in their blue overalls. One of the men looked at the others, before he walked up to the front door and slowly opened it.
Closing it behind him after they had entered, he watched as they slowly lowered three large canvas bags to the floor. One of the men and the woman then made their way to the front room, walking in without a word. The others waited until they heard a muffled yelp, before they started to walk up the stairs.
“What is it Maisie,” Tabitha said as she heard the office door open, “I just need a few more minutes…”
“Good morning, Mrs Balding.”
The soft Geordie accent rook Tabitha by surprise, as she turned round and saw the three masked men behind her, two holding guns as the third smiled at her.
“Please,” the unarmed man said in that soft accent, “do not think of raising the alarm. My colleagues are downstairs now with Maisie, and while they have no desire to harm her, your co-operation will make sure that happens.”
“Who… Who are you,” Tabitha said quietly.
“My name is Jay Edwards – perhaps you have heard of me?”
Tabitha slowly nodded as Jay said “Good – then you know that we are going to stay for a while, and ask you to take care of a small financial transaction for us. In return, your family will remain safe and unharmed, if having a very different day from the one they envisaged. Do you understand?”
As Tabitha nodded, Jay motioned to one of the men, who walked over and helped her to stand. “Good – then come with me while I talk to your daughter, and explain what is going to happen.”
The party went down to the front room, where Tabitha saw Maisie sitting on the couch, her wrists tied together in front of her and her ankles secured with rope.
“Mum, what’s happening,” she whispered as Jay indicated Tabitha should sit next to her.
“It’s all right, Maisie,” Jay said quietly, “I know we look big and scary, but if you do as you’re told, then you’ll be just fine. We’ve come to visit for the day, and later we’re going to ask mummy and daddy to do something for us. Now, you will have to spend a fair bit of the day with your arms and legs tied, but we’ll try and make a game of it, all right?”
As Maisie nodded, Jay said to the woman “Mrs McPhee here is going to look after you, and your little sisters when they get home. All right?”
He then looked at Tabitha and said “As for today, we’re not going to stop you taking deliveries or doing anything that involves people coming to the house, but you get rid of them as quickly as possible. We’ll be with the children the whole time, understood?”
Tabitha slowly nodded, as Jay said “Excellent – well, you may return to your work, and one of us will keep you company while the rest await the return of your husband and the rest of your family.”
An hour later, a grey Daimler pulled up outside the house and James Balding got out, looking at the grey van.
“Wonder what Tabby has ordered this time,” he said to himself as he opened the back door and two ten year old twin girls got out, both of them with their light brown hair done with a little knot on the top. Jodie was wearing a long sleeved black dress with a layered lace skirt, purple leather effect leggings and black leather boots, while her sister Linda was dressed in a grey jersey dress with a big black heart on the front, shiny black leggings and short black fur boots.
“All right you two,” James said as he opened the boot, “Go in and see what your sister is up to, while I bring the bags in.” He watched as they ran into the house, and fetched two sports bags out before he closed and locked the car, and then walked in.
“Hey, where is everyone,” he said as he closed the door, but there was no answer. Shrugging his shoulders, he put the sports bags on the floor and walked into the front room – to see two men holding the twins, their hands over their mouths, as a masked woman sat next to Maisie. She had a strip of brown sticking plaster over her mouth as she looked up at her father, her wrists and ankles secured with rope.
“Hello, James,” a man with a soft Geordie accent said as he felt a small metal disc against his back, “not a word please. We are in control of the house, and we have your daughters here in front of you.”
“Where’s my wife?”
“Upstairs – why don’t we go and talk to her while my friends here take very good care of Jodie and Linda. Mrs McPhee?”
“It’s all right girls,” the masked woman said as she stood up, “why don’t you come and sit next to your sister, and I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.”
Jay took James by the arm and walked him up the stairs, into the office where Tabitha was sitting under armed guard.
“Oh god,” she said as she stood up and embraced her husband, “are the girls all right?”
“I think so,” James said, “what happened?”
“They arrived mid-morning – they say they want us to do something for them, and the girls will be unharmed if we do so. Is Maisie all right?”
“I think so – they had something over her mouth, but she didn’t look upset.”
“Nor should she be,” Jay said quietly, “but I think it’s lunchtime. Why don’t you both come down to the kitchen, and then you can sort out some sandwiches for everyone while I explain to both of you what is going to happen?”
“All right,” Tabitha said as she shut down her computer, and the four of them went back downstairs. As they passed the front room, she looked in to see the one he had called Mrs McPhee kneeling in front of the twins, some cord in her hand as she bound their ankles tightly together. Both of them now had a strip of plaster over their mouths, and their wrists tied together in front of them.
As they walked into the kitchen, the other masked man went to help Tabitha with some food while Jay sat with James.
“It’s perfectly simple really,” he said with a smile, "We’ll stay for the rest of today, and later this afternoon your charming wife is going to head into London with one of us to take care of some business. Later tonight, you’ll go with another of my men to do some transactions at a branch of your bank. We will stay and look after the children – keep them safe as long as you do exactly what we tell you to do.”
“You can’t do that – leave two ten year olds and a twelve year old on their own,” Tabitha said as she turned and looked at him.
“We won’t – Kelly will act as babysitter for them. I’m sure she won’t object – especially when she sees the situation when she comes home. Now, and be honest in your answer, are you expecting any more deliveries today?”
Tabitha looked at James, and then shook her head.
“Good – then you can spend some quality family time together this afternoon, make sure the children know there is nothing to fear – too much.”
The three girls looked at their mother as she carried in a tray of sandwiches and fruit, their father following with a tray of glasses with squash in them.
“There now,” Mrs McPhee said as he gently removed the plaster from their mouths, “lunch. Tell me which you would like.”
The three girls nodded as they were each handed a sandwich, holding it in their hands and raising it to their mouths as their parents sat down.
“Are you all right, Maisie,” James said as he looked at her.
“I’m okay, dad – Mrs McPhee said to treat it as a game, and that has helped a bit. But how long are they going to be here?”
“I think they’re here for the whole day, darling,” Tabitha said as she looked at Jay, who nodded and said “When you have all finished eating, you can pick a film to watch, and we’re going to make sure Mum and Dad sit and watch it with you.”
“Oh goodie,” Jodie said as he went to clap her hands – and then remembered her wrists were tied together, “Can we watch Frozen?”
“If your mum and dad agree,” Mrs McPhee said as she handed Jodie a glass of squash. “Now, finish eating and drinking – I need to make you a little more snug and secure before the film can start.”
For the next half hour they sat and had lunch, before Mrs McPhee removed the cords from Maisie’s wrists and ankles, and said “Do you need to go to the toilet?”
As she nodded, she took Mrs McPhee’s gloved hand and walked out, as Jay said “All right Tabitha – sit forward on the chair, and hands behind your back please. This is going to be a quiet family time.”
As she sat forward, she felt the soft cord wrap round her wrists, the twins watching as Jay tied her wrists tightly together and then secured them to her back with rope around her waist. He then wrapped rope around her arms and upper body, above and below her chest, before tying it off behind her back and watching her sit in the chair.
“Take care of James,” Jay said to one of his men, who started to bind the father as Maisie walked back in. Her wrists were tied behind her back now, and there were lengths of rope around her waist and her tummy, keeping her hands in place.
“Is that going to happen to us,” Linda said as she looked fearfully at Mrs McPhee.
“Not in the same way,” Mrs McPhee said quietly, “but you will be just as securely bound. Like I said, it won’t hurt – just that you won’t be able to move too much.”
The twins watched as Jay knelt down, crossed and tied their mother’s ankles together, and then tied her legs together under the hem of her skirt. Their father had been bound in the same way, as Mrs McPhee bound Maisie’s ankles and her legs below her knees.
“Do either of you need the toilet,” she said as she looked at the twins. They both nodded as she untied their ankles, and then led them out of the room while Jay took from one of the canvas bags three bandanas, handing one to each of the men and watching as they rolled them into bands and tied knots in the middle.
“Now then,” he said with a smile, “all three of you, open wide…”
Kelly Balding turned into the gate of her house and walked up the path, the soles of her knee length brown boots cringing on the gravel as she searched for her door keys. She didn’t even notice the van as she tried the door handle, and finding it unlocked went straight in.
“I’m home,” she called out as she took off her brown leather jacket and hung it up. She was wearing a grey patterned sweater under the jacket, a pink skirt and black leggings, with the boots over the leggings as well.
“Hey – anybody here,” she said as she heard the sound of the television in the front room. As she walked in however, she was shocked to see her mother and father sitting in the two armchairs, bound and gagged with knotted scarves as they looked at her.
Her three sisters were sitting side by side on the couch, Maisie in the middle and the twins on either side of her. They had their wrists tied together in front of them, and down to a band of rope around their legs below their knees, another band holding their arms to their sides and a third their ankles together. They each had a rolled up scarf tied between their lips.
Maisie had her hands behind her back, and a knotted scarf between her lips.
“Hello Kelly,” the balaclava masked woman standing behind the girls said, the pistol clearly visible in her hand. “Please, very slowly hand your bag to the man behind you, and then put your own hands behind your back.”
“What the hell is going on,” Kelly said, but as she handed her back over and felt her wrists being tied the masked woman said "So long as you do as you’re told, nothing. Any plans for tonight?”
“I’m meant to be going out.”
“Regretfully, to yare going to have to cancel, you will be babysitting earlier.” She came forward and looked in Kelly’s bag, taking out her mobile phone. “Tell me who to call, and make it convincing – I think the last thing you want are any of your friends to come round here, correct?”
“No… I don’t want that. Find Angela in my contacts.” She watched as the masked woman found and dialled the number, and then held it to her ear.
“Angie? It’s Kel. Look, something’s come up – Mum and Dad have to go and see my grandmother, so I need to babysit tonight.
“No, no – you go with the girls and have fun. I’ll catch up with you next time, all right?”
As the masked woman ended the call, she heard a man say “Well done, Kelly – now, open your mouth.” As she did so, she felt the cotton knot pressing down on her tongue, and the scarf tied round her head, trapping her long brown hair as the ends were secured at the back of her head. She also felt more rope going round her arms, above and below her chest, before she was walked into the room while Tabitha was untied.
“Please, sit down,” the man said as Kelly sat, and watched as her ankles and legs were secured, while the man who had spoken removed her mother’s gag.
“Now,” he said as Tabitha worked her jaw, “I need you to phone out and order pizzas for everyone – you are all going to have an early tea tonight, because Mummy needs to go somewhere.”
Kelly looked at her mother, who nodded and said “I’ll explain later,” before she went out with the masked man.
Sitting round the dining table, the family said very little as they tucked into the large pizzas and side dishes that had been delivered. Mrs McPhee was removing the batteries from their mobile phones, while Jay was talking with two of his men.
“They’re never going to believe this at school,” Maisie said as she picked up another dough ball.
“Well, see how you feel later,” Kelly said as she looked at the armed intruders, their balaclavas only showing their eyes and lips.
“IT hasn’t hurt too much – just made me stiff,” Linda said as she bit into a slice of pepperoni.
“All right,” Jay finally said, “Mummy is going to have to go with one of us now, so say goodbye to her – you might not see her again until the morning.”
“Do you have to go,” Jodie said as Tabitha gave her a hug.
“I’m afraid so, but you all be good girls for your father and sister,” she said with a little smile, before putting on a grey trench coat and saying “All right – let’s get this over with.”
One of the masked men took her by the arm as Jay said “When you are finished, you know what to do?”
He nodded as Tabitha was walked out of the room, leaving James with their four daughters.
“Now then,” Mrs McPhee said as the front door closed, “when you have all finished eating, why don’t we clear things away and we can play a board game for a little while – what do you have?”
“Go for Broke?”
“That sounds like fun,” Jay said with a smile, “so we’ll get that set up and play for a while.”
The kitchen clock was showing nine when Jay said “all right – it’s time for Daddy to go out now. All of your girls give him a great big hug, and then we’ll go into the front room.”
James hugged each of the girls in turn, and then left with another of the men as the four girls came into the front room. “Now,” Jay said with a smile, “I want you, Jodie and Linda, to go with Mrs McPhee, wash and get ready for bed, and then you can come down here and wait with me, all right?”
The two girls nodded as Mrs McPhee took them by the hand and up the stairs, while Kelly said “What are you going to do to us?”
“You’re going to go to bed,” Jay said quietly, “but we will make sure you can’t move around very easily, or make too much noise. Don’t worry – stay as calm and as brave as you all have so far, and you’ll all be just fine.”
Maisie nodded as she heard the twins laughing at the top of the stairs. “Thank you,” she then said quietly.
“For not making it too scary.”
“You’re welcome,” Jay said as he watched both of them. Eventually, both Jodie and Linda re-appeared, Jodie in a purple nightdress and Linda in a pink one.
“Right then,” Jay said quietly, “Maisie, you go with Mrs McPhee. As for you two, Kelly is going to help you with something.”
Going to the bag, Jay took out four small sponge balls and a roll of silver tape. “I want you to hold these,” he said as he handed two each to the twins, “and make fists. Your sister is then going to cover them with silver tape, as part of how you will both spend the night.”
He handed Kelly the tape, and watched as she tore the end of and covered the hands of her sisters, so that they both had silver fists. He then handed her a new pair of sports socks, and told her to pull them over their hands and up their arms, before taping them to the sleeves of their nightdresses.
“Hey – looks like you’re wearing funny gloves,” Maisie said as she came back, wearing a pair of white pyjamas with blue polka dots.
“You’re going to have a pair of funny gloves as well,” Jay said as Mrs McPhee took Kelly out of the room. “Hold these for me and make a fist…”
As Kelly came back in, wearing a ducky pink vest top and a pair of shorts, she saw her three younger sisters on the couch, all now wearing white socks with a silver band around each of their arms. She took the two sponges that were handed to her, and watched as she too had her hands covered and hidden under the tape and cotton.
“There we go,” Jay said quietly, “time for bed now. The twins share a room, correct?”
“That’s correct,” Mrs McPhee said, “So let’s go there first.” They all walked up the stairs and into their room, with the two beds side by side.
“Now girls,” Mrs McPhee said as she looked at them, “we need to make sure you stay safe and quiet on your beds. Lie down and cross your wrists in front of your tummies.”
“No,” Jodie said as she looked at Linda, “we want to be the same as our big sisters?”
“Are you sure? It can be a bit uncomfortable if you roll onto your backs while you are asleep.”
“IT’s what we want,” Linda said, so Mrs McPhee smiled and said “All right – watch what I do to Maisie and Kelly first, all right? Will you two girls please turn with your backs to your younger sisters; I will take care of Maisie, and Jay of Kelly.”
The twins watched, fascinated as Maisie and Kelly had their wrists crossed and tied together, the rope going round and between their arms, and then round their waists to have them locked into place at their backs. Longer ropes were then used to secure their arms above and below their chests, and cinched with short lengths under their arms.
“There,” Mrs McPhee said as they were turned round, “is this what you want for yourselves?” The twins looked at each other and nodded, watching as she took care of each of them in turn.
“All right,” she said quietly, “now we need to keep you quiet. I’m going to put something in your mouths, and then make sure it stays there so that it becomes very difficult for both of you to talk, all right?”
The two girls nodded as Mrs McPhee folded two of their father’s handkerchiefs, and put one in each of their mouths, before she took two lengths of knotted towelling and used them as cleave gags. As they tried to talk to each other, she took a roll of white tape and tore the end loose, before she wrapped it tightly round their heads, the talking becoming increasingly muffled.
“All right girls,” Mrs McPhee said with a smile, “lie on your sides on your beds, and I’ll take care of your legs.” The other two watched as they lay facing each other, while the female intruder bound their ankles tightly together, as well as their legs below their knees.
“I will be staying with them,” she said as she turned to Maisie and Kelly, “you may go to your own rooms, and rest assured they will not come to any harm.”
“There now,” Jay said as Maisie looked up from her bed, “Comfy?”
“Yssfnks,” Maisie said through the band of white tape that covered the knotted bandana between her lips, that in turn holding a sponge in her mouth. She was on her side, her bound ankles pulled back and tied to her chest ropes, as she watched Kelly been taken to her room, the other man standing guard.
“What about Mum and Dad,” Kelly said as she sat on her bed, watching as Jay knelt and tied her ankles and her legs together.
“They will be safe – you’ll see them again soon enough. Now, open your mouth and stay quiet.”
He pushed the sponge into her mouth and then tied the knotted bandana between her lips, before winding the white tape tightly round her head. He then helped her to lie on her bed, her head resting on her pillow as he tied her ankles to her back, and then said, “Just stay still, and you’ll be just fine.” He turned the light off and looked in next door, saying “Watch both of them” to the other intruder before he walked down the stairs.
He sat and watched the news channels, waiting for his phone to ring as he listened for any sounds of trouble upstairs. As Mrs McPhee came in, she said “The twins are asleep, any news yet?”
“No,” Jay said, but before he could say anything a set of headlights illuminated the room through the curtains. He stood up and walked quickly over, looking through them before he nodded and said “Wait here.”
He left the house, and returned a few minutes later with his hands under the arms of Tabitha, the other masked man carrying her by her legs. She was tightly bound, with rope around her arms and chest her legs and her ankles, and bands of white tape covering her mouth and her eyes.
Laying her gently on the couch, Jay and the other two left the room, Jay looking at his phone as they walked out.
The masked man shook his head as Jay said “Good – we move out. Go and make sure they are all safe, and then back into the van.”
“Hey mum and dad,” Lisa said as she came into the kitchen, “Was the party good last night?”
“You would have hated it,” Mark said as Yvonne gave her daughter a glass of orange juice. “Still, the thing about business parties is you meet such interesting people…”
In Holderness Manor, Sarah and Brian sat watching the news, as the announcer described the scene outside Cheltenham where the Jay Edwards gang had struck again.
“I wonder who this guy is – he seems to care for the families, but her still is a crook,” Sarah said as she leaned against Brian.
“Could be anyone,” he said as he put her arm around her, “but I’d still like to meet him…”