A cold wind was blowing over the Mersey on this particular Saturday, but it was doing nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds that were gathering at Aintree racecourse for the running of the Grand National. Much of the media focus was on the Walsh family, and the possibility that a woman that might finally win the best known National Hunt race in the world, but they were not the only trainers involved in the race.
One in particular had high hopes for his entry, Best Chance. As he got out of the Jaguar, and looked at the growing melee, he stuck his head back in and said “Looks like the bookies are going to have a big day today, girls.”
“Of course they are, Daddy - it’s the National!” Lucinda Ponsonby-Benson stepped out of the car and fixed her large white hat to her head with a hat pin. “Come on Tara - we want to get something to eat before the big race.”
Tara Smith, Luci’s friend and flatmate, climbed out of the car at the other side, drawing her shrug as much around herself as she could to keep the chill out. “We’ve got plenty of time, Luci - don’t worry,” she said as she joined her friend and they walked towards the grandstand.
“I’ll see you both in the parade circle later,” the Colonel called out, and Luci waved back to him. She had on a cream coloured jacket over a pale blue high collared dress, the hem of which came to just below her knees, and a pair of patent leather black boots covering her lower legs.
The wind was blowing Tara’s blonde hair around, as Luci smiled and said “You should have worn a hat.”
“Yeah, but we can’t all carry that off,” Tara said with a smile as she looked at her friend. She herself had on a black strapless top that was the same colour as her shrug, with a pair of matching trousers, all in black silk, and a pair of high heeled sandals on her feet.
“So do you think he stands a chance,” Tara said as they walked into the VIP bar area.
“Who knows - Daddy thinks he does, and that’s good enough for me... JED!!!”
Tara looked over to where a smartly dressed young man was standing, who waved back to the pair as they walked over. Jed Hornby was Luci’s current boyfriend, and was on a short leave from his military duties.
“There you two are,” he said as he embraced and kissed Luci. “I was worried you were not going to be able to make it - the traffic today is horrendous.”
“Daddy knows the back roads,” Luci said as she put her arm around his waist. “So who’s this handsome guy with you?”
“Oh forgive me,” Jed said as he turned to the dark haired man standing next to him. Tara, Luci, this is my fellow officer, Bob Holding. Bob, this is Lucinda Ponsonby-Benson, my girlfriend, and her flatmate Tara Smith.”
“Pleasure,” Bob said as he took Tara’s hand and kissed the back of it. “Jed has told me a lot about both of you.”
“All flattering, I hope,” Tara said as she smiled in reply. “Look, I’m going to put a bet on for the race. Coming with me?”
“I’ll catch up with you in a little while,” Luci said as Tara walked towards the door. As she reached the end, however, Bob said “hold on - I’ll come with you. I could do with putting some money on myself.”
“Why thanks - that would be great,” Tara said as he held the door open, and they both walked out.
“Are you trying to set Tara up,” Luci said as she looked at Jed.
“Would I consider doing such a thing without telling you first?”
Jed smiled and said “Well, with equal frankness - I’m trying to set Bob up. Of course, if Tara is happy as well...”
Their discussion as interrupted by a young man who walked up to them, dressed in a waistcoat and dark trousers, his bow tie perfectly symmetrical at his neck.
“Forgive me, Miss, but are you Miss Ponsonby-Benson?”
“Yes,” Luci said, “that’s me.”
“I have a message from your father. He wondered if you could meet him at the stable block now?”
“Great,” Luci said as she put her glass down, “He probably wants us to have a photo taken with the horse. I’ll see you at the parade circle, all right?”
Jed nodded and watched as Luci walked off with the young man, out of the room.
It was 3:45 as Tara and Bob approached the circle, and saw the Colonel standing there.
“Ah, there you are,” he said as he turned and saw Tara approaching, “I do not believe I have had the pleasure?”
“Bob, this is Colonel Ponsonby-Benson, Luci’s father. Sir, this is Lieutenant Robert Holding, from Jed’s company.”
“It is an honour, sir,” Bob said as he shook the Colonel’s hand.
“Nonsense - any friend of Jed’s is welcome. Have you seen him?”
“I’m here,” Jed said as he walked up, “is Luci here?”
“No - isn’t she with you?”
Jed looked round and said “No - she had a message that you wished to see her at the stable block, sir.”
Now it was the Colonel’s turn to look worried. “No - I was at the stable block, but I did not send any message. What’s happened to her?”
“Oh it was probably just a misunderstanding,” Tara said as she looked at Best Chance going past. “I’ll go back to the VIP room and see if she went back there. Jed, why don’t you and Bob go and check the stable block, just in case?”
The two men nodded as they walked towards the stables, while Tara made her way back to the VIP room. As she entered, she stopped a waitress and said “Excuse me - a friend of mine was here earlier. About five ten, chestnut hair, cream jacket, blue dress and boots. Do you remember her?”
The waitress thought for a moment, looking at Tara before she said “Yes - I saw her walking down that corridor with a waiter an hour or so ago.” She pointed towards a long corridor, with a set of double doors at the far end.
“Thanks,” Tara said as she walked in that direction, wondering where Luci had got to now. As she reached the double doors, she pushed them open and went through, finding herself in a dark corridor with several doors leading off from it.
“Luci? Lucinda, are you down here?” Tara walked down the corridor, opening doors and looking in, but there seemed to be no sign of her friend. Finally, she stopped at a wooden door and opened it, turning on the light as she stepped in.
“Lu... Holy sh...”
She could see Lucinda, her eyes closed and her head to one side as she sat on the floor. Her hands were under her legs, and a band of rope encircled the dark leather of her boots at her ankles.
Tara had barely time to register this before a damp, sweet smelling cloth was clamped over her nose and mouth. She reached up, trying desperately to pull it away, but within seconds she felt her head go fuzzy, and she slowly closed her eyes...
“Tara? Tara, wake up!”
“Bt I dnwanna go to school, mummie,” Tara said as she slowly opened her eyes, and saw Luci looking back at her. “Wake up, Tara,” she whispered as her friend shook her head to clear out the last of the wooliness, “we’re in the guano again.”
Tara tried to move her arms, only to realise that they were secured together under her legs. She could now see that Luci was sitting with her on a straw covered floor, with their legs bent so that their knees almost touched their chins. With her fingers, she could feel the ropes around her wrists, and she could also just make out the white bands around her legs and ankles in the dim light from the high window.
Luci was similarly bound, her leather boots squeaking as she tried to move her legs. “Great,” Tara finally said as she fully regained consciousness, “Just once, just once, can we go somewhere without ending up trussed up somewhere. What’s going on anyway?”
“Don’t ask me,” Luci said as Tara suddenly realised they were in a horsebox. “I got a message saying Daddy wanted to see me, then the next thing I know I wake up in here and see you sitting there. You?”
“I came looking for you,” Tara said as the door at the rear opened and they both saw the young man standing there. “They’re awake,” he called to someone else, “I’ll shut them up while you talk to the old man.”
“Who the hell are you,” Tara said as the young man came in, grabbing two old cloths as he did so. “Don’t you know whmmmggggg.”
Her calls were cut off by the dirty rag as it was stuffed into her mouth, and a roll of white veterinary bandage wrapped tightly around her head to keep the gag in place. Lucinda watched as this was happening, and then allowed herself to be gagged, in her case a roll of black bandage been used.
“Whtrudngts,” she finally said as the man checked the knots on the rope around her, and then moved her to one side of the car, using a set of straps to securer her against the wall.
“Just a little business dealing with your father,” he said as he secured Tara next to her. “Your friend here came looking for you, so I’m afraid she has to stay as well. Don’t worry - I’m sure you’ll be home in time for Tiffin.”
“Tfn?” Tara said as he watched the young man leaving the horse box, closing the door behind him, “whthlstfn?”
“Dntsk,” Luci said as she tried to extend her legs, with little success. “Nychnsucnrchndr?”
Tara looked as her friend tried to roll over onto one side, but shook her head. “nchns - mtwltd. Hngnthgh....”
As Lucinda watched, Tara shuffled her body round, and started to try and clear the straw away from a part of the floor of the box. She wondered what her friend was up to, as she tried to look round her, but was none the wiser as she shuffled something under her feet, and then tried to bend her legs back as far as she could.
“Any sign of them?”
Jed looked at his friend, and as Bob shook his head he ran his hands through his hair.
“Something’s wrong, I know it is?”
“How can you be so sure - they may just have gone somewhere else and not told us. It’s not as if they have been kidnapped or anything.”
“It would not be the first time,” Jed mumbled, but as he looked round he saw a young man, wearing a tweed jacket and tan trousers walk past. He followed him with his eyes, and then said “Jed, do me a favour?”
“Sure - what?”
“Come with me and say nothing - just be ready,” Jed said as he walked after the young man, Bob following a few paces behind. From a distance, they watched as he approached the Colonel and handed him a note, then walked towards the car park.
“Come on,” Jed said as he walked forward, nodding to the Colonel as they passed each other.
“What the hell is going on,” Bob said as they walked towards the rows of horse boxes.
“You’ll see,” was all Jed offered by way of reply.
“Well now ladies - I’m sure your father will be able to give us what we need soon, and then you can go free.”
He looked at both Tara and Lucinda as they sat there, glaring at him over their bandage gags with their hands secured under their legs. “Oh come now,” he said with a smile as he closed the door and walked towards them, “surely you cannot begrudge a man a little pleasure in his work? All we want is the horse in exchange for both of you - is that so much to ask for?”
“Yllnvrgtwwft,” Luci mumbled as she shook her legs up and down, her dress moving with her as she did so.
“Oh,” he said as he knelt in front of her and stroked her cheek, “and who’s going to stop me?”
“I am, for one.”
Before he had a chance to react, Tara jumped on his back, her arms around his neck as she pulled him backwards. They landed with a heavy thud on the straw covered floor, as he tried to wriggle free of her strong grasp.
“I don’t know how you did it,” the man said as he struggled, “but you just made a very, very big mistake.” With a sudden burst of strength, he broke free of Tara’s grip and rolled he rover, pulling her arms behind her back as he sat across her legs.
“Give me one good reason why I should not hurt you very, very badly right now.”
“How about this?”
Tara rolled over as the weight was pulled off her back, and she saw Bob holding the young man against the side of the van, his arm across their captor’s throat, while Jed was untying Lucinda.
“You always seem to end up in these scrapes, girl,” he said as he released her hands and helped her to stand up, before unwinding the bandage from her mouth.
“Yeah - but then my prince would not come and rescue me,” she said as she hugged her fiancé. “So what took you both so long?”
“You’re lucky I recognised him,” Jed said as he looked at Tara, “but you seemed to get free first as well. How?”
Tara bent down and picked up the long metal tool she had used to loosen her ropes. “Careless of them to leave this pritchel lying around,” she said with a smile, “I was able to work the knots loose and untie my hands, then waited until he was looking at Luci to pull my gag down and grab him.”
As she was talking, two security guards came in and took their captor away, as the Colonel joined them. “The cheek,” he said as he looked at the girls, “They parked right next to us. Must have thought that would spook the horse less. Still, are you all right?”
“Come on Daddy,” Lucinda said as she finally picked up her hat and put it back on her head, “You know me. How did we do anyway?”
“Unplaced, but at least he finished. Will you two men care to join us for dinner? I know a very good steakhouse near here.”
“it would be an honour sir,” Bob said, and as he said this he flashed a smile at Tara. She in turn blushed - it was a new thing for her to have an admirer.
She liked it, though - she liked it a lot.