She looked up, eyes red with crying, as the masked man spoke into the phone.
“He did all that we asked him to do? And you told him to stay there for one hour? Excellent – meet you at the hideout.”
He switched off the mobile phone and turned to her, reaching up and stroking her blonde hair away from her eyes. “Your husband loves you very much,” he said as he looked through the nylon stocking into her face, “and he has done everything we told him to do. Just be patient and this will soon all be over.”
She watched as he packed up the spare ropes into the duffel bag- the ones he had not used to lash her firmly onto the dining room chair that she was sitting on. Her hands ached from been held together behind the chair back and against the wooden support for what seemed like hours, while she was stiff from been held in one place for so long.
Not that she could complain, for two reasons. The first was upstairs – her daughter, who had been taken there by another masked man earlier and from whom she had heard nothing for two hours.
The second was the wide band of microfoam tape that covered her lower face, moulded to the shape of her jaw and lips and holding a pair of her own panties in place to further silence her.
It had been like that all day, ever since she had come home from the supermarket and been grabbed. Now, as the other man came in and helped her guard to clear up, she was powerless, helpless as they walked out of the door. The curtains were closed, obscuring the light and the view outside, so all she could do was sit, wait and hope.
After a short while, she heard a bumping sound, and looking to the doorway she saw her daughter make her way into the room, sliding along the floor. The brown ropes were clearly visible over her yellow t-shirt and shorts, and a large black bandana with white details was pulled between her lips. She motioned with her head for her daughter to come over, glad of the company if not the ability to talk.
“Here’s to another success!”
Jack raised his glass and toasted Bill, Dave and Karen as they looked at the bags of money on the table. “So the manager just complied?”
Dave nodded. “He most certainly did – it would seem we’re getting a bit of a national notoriety now. Just as well we take turns been the kidnappers and the robbers, or they may put two and two together and get the right answer.”
The four of them had practised the classic “Do as we say or she gets hurt” routine for the last eighteen months now. They were very careful in their planning and timing, only executing a job once every couple of months and picking a time when the target was most likely to be able to give them what they wanted. Once they knew the patterns of their target and his wife, they would strike by noon and get the goods by early evening.
The plan was usually simple – grab the wife or significant other at home, and let the target know if he co-operated she would be fine. If there were other family members, then so be it – they always brought more than enough supplies, but the key thing was the partner. Once she was secure, they could proceed and then leave.
This time, it had been Jack and Bill at the house, while Karen collected the money and Dave drove the car. It was a slick, well rehearsed operation, and it worked well for them.
“So, Karen, how much?”
“I think we have twenty grand there – but count it to make sure.”
As Jack counted through the money, Kate turned and smiled at Dave. It had been a good day for both of them, and she was looking forward to a good night as well.
“Twenty-two thousand,” Jack eventually said as she sat down. “Well done. Now we can lay low for a little while.”
Bill nodded slowly, before saying “You know, I don’t see why just this once we can’t kill two birds with one stone.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, this was good and worked well, so why don’t we go for our back-up target as well?”
“Bill you know full well we need to allow some time to pass between our visits.”
“I know, I know, but I had some news when we got back. There’s a large delivery Wednesday – diamonds – and I think we need to take advantage of it. After all, we’ve done the homework.”
Jack stood up and walked to a side table, taking a file from it and leafing through the contents.
“Albert Jennings, dealer in jewels and rare coins. Mid forties, married to Harriet with one daughter aged 15. Harriet is a typical house wife and mother, and the routine is fairly standard. We did have the plan worked out, and if as you say there is an extra delivery the day after tomorrow...”
Dave stood up and walked to the window. “What about the usual courtesies?”
“Well, we cleared today – I don’t think we’ll have a problem. All right – let’s discuss details and roles...”
“Have a good day at work, darling!”
Harriet Jennings waited as her husband Albert kissed her on the cheek before he walked quickly to the waiting car and climbed in. She was wearing a blue silk dressing gown over a pair of whiter silk pyjamas, with a thin blue chiffon scarf rolled into a band and tied over her greying blonde hair. As the car drove off, she turned in time to see her daughter Jessie make her way up the staircase in a pair of pink cotton short pyjamas.
“You need to get a move on, Jessie,” she called up after her, “the school bus leaves in half an hour!”
“And I’ll be ready in twenty,” she called back down as the sound of the shower running started in the background. Harriet smiled as she made her way back to the dining room and poured herself a last cup of coffee. She had a few hours to kill before she was due at the charity board meeting, and she intended to relax for that short time.
Draining her cup, she started to collect together the plates as she heard Jessie coming down the stairs. “Your bag is in the kitchen,” she called through as she picked up the plates and carried them in. As she entered the kitchen, however, she stopped short as she saw Jessie standing there.
Her daughter was wearing her school uniform – a white blouse and knee length blue skirt, with white socks and a pair of black Mary Jane shoes. Her blazer was a red and blue striped garment, with matching tie, and a straw boater was on her head. That was not what stopped her short, however.
What stopped her short was the look of fear on her daughter’s face as she gripped the edge of the work surface, and the two strangers who were standing in the kitchen. One was male, one female, and both were wearing blue overalls, leather gloves on their hands and stockings over their heads.
“Good morning, Harriet,” the man said as he pointed a small pistol in her direction. “Please, put those dishes down, and then listen to what I have to say.”
“Who... who are you?” she said as she placed the plates by the sink and walked over to stand beside Jessie. “Mum,” she whispered, “who are they? They were here when I came in and...”
“Please, ladies, don’t panic,” the woman said as she walked over and took Jessie by the arm. “We need you to do what we tell you to do, and then you get to tell everyone about the exciting day you had. Why don’t the two of you sit down and relax – we have a busy day ahead of us, starting with you, Harriet – we need you to make a phone call.”
The older woman looked at her daughter, who was sitting with the woman’s hands on her shoulders, before nodding and saying “All right – just please don’t hurt us.”
“Good morning, Denise.”
Albert smiled at his secretary as he entered the office he maintained at the back of his dealership. Denise looked up at her, and he could not help noticing the tear in her eye.
“Is anything the matter, Denise?”
“No – no, Mister Jennings, it’s just a fight I had with my boyfriend last night. I’ll be all right.”
As Albert walked through the door into his office, Denise looked again at the picture she had been sent on her cell phone, before dialling a number and waiting.
“I... I got the message. I’ll do whatever you say,” she said in a faltering voice.
“Yes, I’m sure she will be back at school tomorrow – it looks like a twenty-four hour virus. I just want to be sure it is that and not something more serious.
“Of course – she will bring the necessary letter with her. Thank you very much.”
As she replaced the receiver, she looked over at the masked man standing beside her. “All right, I’ve done what you asked. Now what?”
He looked over at the masked woman standing behind Jessie. “Why don’t you take Jessie up to her room and let her change into something more comfortable – and then make sure she does not get in our way.”
“No – I want Jessie to stay with me,” Harriet called out, but the man just smiled and said “Maybe later – for now, I think she needs to get out of that uniform.”
“It’s all right, mum,” Jessie said as she stood up. “What do I call you,” she said as she looked at her masked escort.
“Call me Miss,” she said as she took Jessie by the arm. They passed Harriet as she pulled the front of her dressing gown around herself. “Why don’t we go into the front room,” the man said as he took Harriet by the arm, “and then you can close the curtains. We don’t want anyone looking in on us, after all.”
Walking into the large room, the man stayed by the doorway and watched as Harriet pulled the blinds down across the glass. “Very good,” he said as he walked into the darkened room, “now, take a seat and we can have a little chat.” Harriet watched, her eyes widening as she saw him take a length of rope out of his back pocket and unravel it.
“Nice room,” the woman called Miss said as she looked round Jessie’s room. The young girl’s uniform was placed on the back of a chair as she pulled a white t-shirt over her head and down her chest, the hem edging against the top of her grey cycling pants.
“Is this a robbery,” she said as she sat down on the edge of her bed and pulled a pair of black socks over her feet.
“It is – but not of the house,” Miss said as she looked at the young girl. Her shoulder length brown hair was held back by a blue cotton headband she had pulled over it when she had started to get changed. “We need you and your mother to persuade your father to do something for us. She’ll be calling him in a little while.”
“So what did your friend mean by keeping me out of the way.”
By way of answer, Miss went to the open sock drawer and pulled out a second pair. “Put these over your hands,” she said as she tossed them to Jessie, “and then hold your hands out in front of you.”
As Albert walked out of the office, she saw Denise sitting typing, her eyes still red. Walking to the front of the dealership, she saw two of the counter staff talking in low whispers, which stopped as they saw him coming closer. “Everything all right?” he asked, and they said it was, but something was beginning to bother him.
The man tugged on the rope as he knotted the ends together under the arm of the chair. Harriet looked at her wrists, tied together with the rope over the cuffs of her gown and then secured down to the wooden arm of the large oak chair in the main room.
Her ankles had also been tied together with rope, and secured to the opposite front leg of the chair. It was a little uncomfortable, but at least she had a bit of movement. Her major concern was about what had happened to her daughter.
Jessie was lying on her bed, her wrists tied together and secured to the headboard with rope. She was lying on her side, looking down as Miss secured her ankles together with a second length of rope. A small pink chiffon scarf was wadded up and stuffed into her mouth, but she was not trying to push it out – partly from fear, partly because Miss had used her tie to hold the scarf in place, but partly because she knew there was nothing she could do about the situation.
“Now,” the man said as he sat opposite Harriet, “We will bring Jessie down eventually, but for now we will wait. In an hour or so I’m going to tell you to call your husband, and give him a message.” Harriet nodded as she realised she was a pawn in the game.
“Control, this is team 4”
“Go ahead team 4”
“Control, we have a situation. The target has not arrived at her school – all pupils have come in, and there is no record of her entering by any entrance.”
The red haired woman sat back for a moment. “Roger that, Team 4 – proceed to second site and await second target. Report when you have target – I will make arrangements to retrieve first target from home after.”
“Mister Jennings, I have your wife on line one.”
“Thank you Denise,” Albert said as he picked up the receiver. “Hello Harriet – are you on your way to the meeting yet?”
He listened to his wife on the other end of the line, a look of concern and horror beginning to cross his face as he heard what she had to say. “Is he there,” he said, and continued to listen. “All right – all right, I’ll do what you say,” he finally said quietly as he replaced the phone.
Albert looked up to see one of the front store staff standing there.
“Mister Jennings, the delivery is here. Will you come and supervise, please?”
“Of course,” he said as he stood up and put his jacket on. “Of course...”
“Control, this is team 4. We have a negative on secondary target?”
“Please repeat, team 4 – did you say have a negative on secondary target?”
“Confirmed, control – she did not arrive for her scheduled meeting. How do you wish to proceed?”
“Stand by team 4.” Replacing the radio mike, the red haired woman walked the short distance from her desk to a large mahogany door, smoothing her skirt down as she knocked.
“Come,” a voice both feminine and commanding in the depth of tone said, and the woman walked into the office.
“Forgive the interruption, Madame, but we have a problem.”
“What sort of problem, Penelope?”
“Team 4 have been unable to collect both targets – they have not arrived at their scheduled destinations. How do you wish to proceed?”
The thin, dark haired woman sat back and tapped her pen against her chin. “Have team 4 do a reconnaissance of the home address,” she finally said, “and report back in twenty minutes. Notify team 1, and instruct them to hold off until we have more information. Tell them to report back if anything unusual happens.”
Penelope nodded as she turned and left her boss, mentor and friend to continue her work.
“Team 4, proceed to home address and have Lily check things out. You have twenty minutes?”
“Roger that, Control. Stand by?”
“You think my husband will do what you asked him to do, Sir?”
“I’m sure he will,” the masked man said as the masked woman walked in. “Jessie is quite safe upstairs,” she said as she checked the contents of a bag. “I will let her go to the toilet in a little while.”
“Can you bring her down here after that,” Harriet asked as she looked up. “I want her to be with me.”
The two intruders looked at each other, before the man nodded and said “very well, but she will have to be quiet. Will you take care of that, Miss?”
“I will, Sir,” she said as a mobile phone started ringing. The man took it out of his pocket and said “Yes?”
“Dave, it’s Jack. How are things there?”
“All secured – you can proceed on schedule?”
“Got it,” Jack said as she finished the call. He looked in the direction that Bill was staring at, as the security men started to take the boxes out of the armoured van and into the front door of Jennings Dealers.
“Well, why don’t we all...” the man started to say before there was a ring on the doorbell. Moving swiftly, the man went behind Harriet and clamped his large hand over her mouth. “See who it is,” he said to the masked woman who nodded as she went out and closed the door.
Karen quickly removed her stocking and stripped out of her boiler suit, showing a white blouse and a pair of black trousers as she smoothed her hair down. Taking deep breaths, she opened the door to find a blonde haired woman standing there, dressed in a powder blue trouser suit with a pale cream camisole top under the jacket. She had a clipboard in her hand, and smiled as she said “Mrs Jennings?”
“No, I’m afraid Mrs Jennings is out,” Karen said quietly. “I’m her sister – can I help you?”
“I’m from Stockley Academy – We noticed that Jessica Jennings had not reported for registration today, and as I was in the area I said I would call in to see what happened.”
“That’s not necessary – Harriet called the school today to say she was unwell, and that she was keeping her at home today.”
The blonde haired woman nodded. “I see – I did not go in after I got the message, so I guess they just forgot to tell me. Well, I hope Jessica gets better, and we look forward to seeing her tomorrow. Good Day, Miss...”
“Amy – Amy Clark,” Karen said as she closed the door. She watched through the peep hole as the visitor walked slowly down the pathway, closing the garden gate behind her. She turned to see Dave standing there.
“Nicely handled,” he said as Karen climbed back into the boiler suit. “Go and fetch the daughter – make sure she goes to the toilet first, and secure her arms before you come down.” She nodded as she pulled the stocking back over her head, and climbed the staircase.
“I’m sorry, what did you say,” she said as she pulled the saliva soaked cloth out of her mouth.
“I said, who was it?”
“Somebody from your school who was a bit officious,” she said as she started to untie Jessie’s ankles. “Take a moment to freshen yourself up – I’m going to take you down to be with your mother.”
“Thank you, Miss,” Jessie said as she watched the masked woman reach up and release her wrist from the headboard.
“Lily – what did you find out?”
“It sounds crazy, but I think someone else may be planning to hit the target today.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Someone answered the door claiming to be Harriet Jenning’s sister, and saying Jessie had been taking ill. The blinds were drawn across the front windows, and there was no sign of either of the other women from the limited view I had. I’m telling you, my gut tells me someone else has them and is planning to get something at Jennings today.”
“Well, I trust your instincts on this one. Tell the team to stand by – I may have further instructions later.”
Penelope stood up and walked to Madame X’s office. She walked in and sat down.
“So, do we have a problem?”
“Lily has visited the house, and – well, it would appear someone has decided to hit the Jennings family today as well.”
Madame X put her pen down and looked at her executive assistant. She listened as the situation was explained, and sat back to think things over.
“Well, it has always been a possibility, but we were assured by the BA that no plans were notified for today on Jennings. Penelope, ask them if they have been made aware of any potential plans for our target.”
“And in the meantime?”
“Notify team 1 – if anybody calls to see Mister Jennings, they are to monitor and report in. Inform Lillian that she is to remain in the vicinity – we may need her help later.”
“Jessie, are you all right?”
Harriet called out as the masked woman walked in with her hand on Jessie’s arm. The young girl had her wrists pinned together behind her back, and as she walked past Harriet could see the white tape that encircled her wrists.
“I’m all right mum,” she said as she was turned round and heard the end of the tape been pulled off. As her arms were secured to her back around her waist, the masked man started to untie Harriet.
“I want you to come upstairs and get changed,” the man said as Harriet rubbed her wrists. “The phones have been disconnected, and my friend her is going to stay with your daughter, so don’t try anything.”
As she walked up the stairs, Miss closed the room door and went back to Jessie. “Are you all right,” she said as she pulled the end of the roll again. Taping her arms to her sides and passing the tape around her chest, she secured Jessie’s upper body before helping her to sit down on the couch.
Jack and Bill climbed out of the car and walked across the road to the front door, walking through the glass doors and smiling at the two staff members manning the front desk.
“We have an appointment with Mister Jennings,” Bill said as he placed his briefcase on the counter. The two women exchanged a nervous glance, before one of them picked up the telephone. “Denise, there are two gentlemen here to see Mister Jennings,” she said, before nodding and replacing the receiver. “His secretary will be here in a moment,” she said as she opened the door at the side and allowed the two men to enter.
As they went through, a smartly dressed woman stood up from the seat she was n and walked over. “Very good,” she said to the two women, “Now, once they have left, my associates will arrive and we will conduct our business. Until then, stay calm.”
“Good afternoon, Mister Jennings,” Bill said as Denise showed them in. “Did you receive our message?”
“I did,” Albert said as he walked over to the safe. “Just take them and let my family go.”
“Don’t worry about them,” Bill said as Jack started to put the sacks of diamonds into the briefcase. “My associates are taking care of them and making sure they are safe.”
“Oh my god.”
As Harriet walked back into the front room, she saw Jessie lying on her side, bands of white tape encircling her upper body, thighs, calves and legs as she squirmed round on the leather.
“It’s all right, mum,” Jessie said quickly, “I’m going to be fine.” Her mother was wearing a pale blue sweatshirt and joggers, with white anklet socks, as she sat in the chair that Dave had carried in from the dining room.
“Have a seat, Harriet,” he said as he placed so that she could look at her daughter, “and I‘ll make you comfortable as well.” He shook out the rope he had used earlier, before guiding the older woman’s wrists behind the chair back, crossing them and starting to tie them together.
As she felt her arms been secured to the wooden support, she watched the woman carefully push a rolled up blue silk headscarf into her daughter’s mouth, before covering it with a strip of the white tape. She repeated the process several times, taking the tape across her mouth and chin until her lower jaw was white. Harriet barely noticed her own upper body been pulled against the chair back as this was going on, until she registered with a start that she could not move.
The masked man walked round and started to secure her ankles to her front legs with more rope as the woman walked over, one of Harriet’s own smaller silk scarves in her hand. “Open wide,” she said as she stood behind the older woman, who watched her daughter wriggling round as her mouth was filled with the scented cloth.
“Thank you very much, Mister Jennings,” Bill said a she closed the case. “Now, do nothing for one hour. If you try to contact the police, or call home, your wife and daughter will be the ones who pay the penalty. After one hour, you may call the police.”
They left the office, smiling at Denise and the front of shop staff as they walked out. As soon as the door closed, the smartly dressed woman locked the front door as four black clad and balaclava wearing women came from a rear door.
Albert Jennings looked up as the door was flung open and the woman walked in with a masked companion. “Now that they have left,” she said to the shocked owner, “My employer has some business to discuss with you, Mister Jennings.”
“Who are you,” he said as he stood up, only to catch a glimpse of his staff lying on the floor behind the two women, two others securing their wrists with zip ties.
“Another successful day,” Bill said as he and Jack climbed back into the car.
“Don’t say that until,” Jack started to say before his eyes widened and his head slumped back. “Jack?” Bill said before he too felt the tazer against his neck, sending him into a state if unconsciousness.
“Two to collect,” the masked woman said as she straightened up in the back seat of the car, “and inform team 4 they need to be ready to move.”
Jessie watched as the last strip of tape was smoothed over her mother’s mouth. Her ankles and knees had been firmly tied to the legs of the chair, and she was lashed to the wooden back with rope running around and between her arms and chest. Harriet looked over at her daughter, the tear stains visible on her cheeks, and silently nodded as the two masked captors gathered their material together.
“I’m sure someone will be around to free you soon,” the man said as they walked out of the room, “Have a nice day.”
He closed the door on the two women as he and Karen quickly walked out of the kitchen door, through the back gate and down the alleyway to where they had left their car. “Another job well done,” Karen said as she pulled off her stocking mask and stuffed it into her pocket.
“Let’s get back to the house first and then we can decide,” Dave replied, but as they approached the car they saw that the four tires had flattened out. Moving closer, they saw that they had been stabbed with a sharp object.
“Who the hell did this,” Dave said, only for a female voice to say “That would be me.”
They turned to see Lily standing there, a smile on her face as she looked at them. “You,” Karen said angrily, “What the hell do you think you are doing?”
“The more appropriate question is going to be, what the hell did you think you were doing,” she said as she pointed a large pistol at the two robbers. “Now, come with me – my employer would like a word with both of you.”
The woman checked the zip ties around Albert Jenning’s wrists, ankles and legs, and smoothed the tape over his lips one more time. Through the open door, he could see his staff similarly secured and gagged, as the masked women cleared the shelves of jewels and gold.
“We thank you for your co-operation,” the leader of the gang said as the four masked intruders gathered up the various bags. “Be assured your family members and partners will all be released within the next half hour, and the police I am sure will attend shortly. Your wife and daughter,” she said as she knelt next to Albert, “will apparently have quite a tale to tell, but be assured what they may have experienced was not at our hands.”
“I’m sure all will become clear eventually,” she said as she walked out of the office. “Move out – we have a deadline to meet.”
“Remove their hoods.”
Karen blinked as the cloth hood was removed from her head. She found herself in a bare room, save for the four chairs that she and her colleagues were sat in. Looking down, she could see that her wrists were secured to the side of the chair with leather straps, and similar straps had been used on her feet. Glancing across, she saw Bill, Jack and Dave similarly secured, blinking in the harsh neon light.
The voice that had spoken had been deep, resonant, yet undeniably female, and as the exquisitely dressed dark haired speaker walked in front of them Karen had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Do you know who I am,” she said as she walked in front of them. Looking over, she could see her three male companions had no idea, but she did, so she quietly said “Yes – I know who you are.”
“Inform your friends.”
“Guys,” she said as she swallowed hard, “Meet Madame X.”
“Madame...” Dave said, before he turned and looked at the tall woman. “Oh no, don’t tell me...”
“Had you bothered to talk to the local representative,” Madame X continued, “he would have told you that I had informed him of an operation at Jennings today – but you failed to do so. It could have been very costly for me if your plans had interfered with mine – we are all fortunate that we were able to adjust our operations to – compensate for your blundering into the scenario.”
“Madame,” Bill finally said “Please, be assured that had we but known...”
“You did not know, and from what my associates have said you acquitted yourselves well in the execution of your plan. It does not remove, however, the grave danger you presented to me and my associates. The question in my mind is, what should I do about that?”
The four looked at each other as Madame X surveyed them in turn. “My offer is this,” she eventually said. “I will let you go free in exchange for two things.”
“What are they?”
“Firstly, you leave with 25% of your diamonds haul. Had you known, there was a far greater fortune elsewhere in the building, but that is none of your concern. You deserve some reward for your efforts, but I deserve recompense for the inconvenience you have caused me and my associates.”
Bill nodded. “What is the second thing?”
“Someday I will ask for you to undertake a task for me, and I expect you to do it without question.” She stood in front on Karen as she said this. “You are not without talent and skill, and I can use that, but today you were, to use the vernacular, in the way. Make sure you never are again. Be assured that incurring my displeasure would be – a mistake.”
Bill swallowed hard as he said “We agree. Thank you.”
“Hood them and get them out of here,” she said as she walked out of the building. Penny was standing outside, clipboard in hand.
“You are been generous today, Madame,” she said as they walked in one direction, the four ‘guests’ in another.
“Well, we got what we wanted, and more besides,” she said as they walked into the elevator. “Come – let us see what the news has to say.”