The Black Cat
More tea? I’m glad you dropped by - I could do with a sit down for a while. Life has been incredibly busy recently, what with - but I can’t tell you about some of those things. Not yet anyway.
I was reading the Sunday supplement last week, and their fashion editor was on about how “Black is the new Black.” Sometimes I wonder if they realise just how pretentious that sounds - after all, when you have been in my career as long as I have you realise black never goes away.
I mean, one of the very first jobs I did as an apprentice, back in the late sixties, my mentor and I were searching a flat in Wimbledon when this blonde beauty walks in on us. She was wearing a dress by Mary Quant - sleeveless, with a round collar. Trimmed in white at the shoulders, neck and hem. The dress came to just above her knees, and she had on a pair of white go-go boots to cover her legs.
Now, under the terms of my training I was only allowed to observe at this point, so I watched as my mentor charmed her, calmed her and eventually had her lying on the floor, as he used a ball of twine that was there to bind her wrist and ankles together. As she rolled onto her side, she flashed a smile at me, her lips rouged, and said “Isn’t this a school night?”
“It is,” I replied, “and I’m learning right now.”
“Oh, a charmer this one - he’ll go far.”
“I’m sure he well,” my mentor said before he pressed a piece of brown sticking plaster over her mouth, and we left her, our packets filled with her jewellery. As he closed the door, my mentor turned to me and said “Right - you said the right thing there, but never forget that it is best to be polite. Got it?”
I nodded as we walked off - it was the first of many lessons I was to learn from him over the next few years, and a lesson I have always taken strongly to heart. Manners are very important, and seeing a lack of them has sometimes led to rather profitable visits.
A few years later, I was in Knightsbridge, minding my own business in a book store when I heard an argument developing near the counter. I walked over and observed from a distance, as a young woman with long brown hair was berating the poor elderly shop owner.
She was wearing a black lace dress that came down to her knees, with flared out sleeves that were made of a sheer material with black lace detail. The dress itself was round necked with an under body, and she was wearing dark tights with a pair of killer stiletto heels. A black head scarf was over her head.
From what I could gather, she was after some book which the owner did not have, and the poor woman was trying to explain why, but madam would have none of it. As she stormed out of the shop, I followed her to her lovely little flat, and watched until I saw her in a window. It was then a simple matter to nip round the back, up the drainpipe and in her kitchen window.
She was in her front room, reading a magazine when I put my gloved hand over her mouth, and whispered into her ear “Now then, you’re not going to make a fuss, are you?” She shook her head as she stared straight ahead, while I picked up her scarf, handed it to her and said “Gag yourself with that - nice and tight, please.”
Simon and Garfunkel was playing on the record player as she very reluctantly pulled the scarf into her mouth, trapping her hair under it as she tied the ends together behind her head. When she was done, she turned and looked at me, in my black jumper and slacks, and mumbled “nwht.”
“Now, my dear,” I said as I took her arm and made her stand up, “you show me where you keep your valuables, and watch while I take them, before I stop you raising the alarm for a little while.”
Yeah, she was scared - but I never hurt her. I used the belt from her satin dressing gown to bind her wrists together behind her back and then a long chiffon scarf to bind her ankles, and made her comfortable on her bed while I took what I wanted from her jewellery box. She mewled a little, but deep down I had the feeling she was secretly enjoying the experience.
I gave her a little kiss on the forehead, left her alone and returned to the bookshop, in time to buy the book I was after - a collection of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe.
Now, you’re too young to remember the early to mid seventies, but it was a time of very different fashion styles colliding with each other. As a contrast, consider this art gallery owner I paid a visit to who lived in Kentish town.
This would have been about 1974, and I had established a little bit of a name by this time. Anyway, this particular Saturday night I climbed over the back fence of her little residence, and made my way in the darkness across the lawn.
Opening her back door was easy - no need for heated screwdrivers, not when a sheet of paper under the door and the judicious use of a pen would get the key over to the other side for me. I let myself in, locking the door behind me, and switched on the flashlight I had.
Now, remember at that time I was not an antiques trader, but even as I looked through the downstairs rooms I could see this man had some good taste. I was after jewels and money, however, so after I had liberated some gold coins from a downstairs bureau I made my way up to the upper floor and started to search through the bedrooms.
That was - well, fruitful, but my luck ran out when I came back downstairs and the hall light came on. Before I had a chance to do anything, a female voice said “What do you think you are doing?”
It was the wife of the gallery owner - a stunningly beautiful woman of Japanese descent, wearing a black velvet high collared blouse with tight cuffs, black leather trousers and knee length leather boots that were laced up the front. A satin scarf hung around her neck and down the front of her blouse, while her hair was cut into a bob that framed her face.
“Seriously? I’m robbing you, my dear lady, and now I need to make sure you cannot raise the alarm.”
Well, you know me - honesty is always the best policy. She looked me up and down, then nodded and surprised me by saying “Yes - I suppose you will have to. If I may suggest, there is a very comfortable chair in here that would be most useful.
She turned on the light in the front room and closed the curtains, before sitting in a high backed heavy oak chair with arms. Crossing her legs, she placed her arms on the rests and said “You will find some tape in the first drawer in the kitchen.”
“Forgive me,” I said, “but will that not damage your outfit? It would be a shame to waste such a nice blouse.”
She raised an eyebrow and said “Ah - you must be this man the newspapers have called The Cat. Do not worry - this is yesterday’s fashion, and it will not be missed.”
Very strange, I tell you - but anyway, I found the tape and secured her wrists down to the arms of the chair, then her ankles to the legs. As I taped her upper body to the chair, I said “Is there anyone I can call to find you?”
“No,” she replied as she shook her head, “It is better to wait for my husband to find me. Now, you must silence me - use this.” As she said this, she looked down at the scarf that was still around her neck, so I obliged and used it as a cleave gag.
Even in the neon glare that was the eighties, a black dress could prove very popular, and not just amongst the Hooray Henry set - although they tended to use them for their little parties as well. I had occasion to visit the United States a couple of times in that decade, and one particular occasion was when most teenagers were either Mallrats, dressed in faded denim and listening to the likes of Tiffany, or very much in the style of Cindy Lauper.
I had been commissioned to obtain a particular print for a client, and the owner was based in a small town outside Philadelphia, so this was one of the rare occasions when I operated outside a jurisdiction I was familiar with. As a result, I had to make damned sure I was not caught by the local law enforcement officers, so I picked the best time to enter the house - the middle of the day, when people don’t pay attention to what is going on.
This house was a low white fronted wooden building in a quiet street, but there were still people walking round so they would not see a casually dressed man nip round the side of a building and in the back door, having first donned gloves and, unusually for me, a stocking mask.
I was glad I had done so, however, because despite my careful planning I found that the house was not empty - a young woman was standing in the sitting room when I walked in, clasping a set of headphones to her ears as she danced to some sort of music.
Her outfit was interesting - she had on a black halter neck top and a black lace skirt, with a wide black canvas belt holding it up. Under the skirt she was wearing a pair of incredibly lurid and tight pink pants that came down to her calves, and a pair of black three inch heeled shoes. Her outfit was completed by a pair of black lace gloves.
She was only about five foot four as well, with long permed blonde hair that jiggled as she tried to dance to the music. I stood and watched for a few minutes, until she turned round and saw me standing there. I could now see the pink heart shaped buckle on her belt, and the thin black chiffon scarf she had tied as a hair band.
She stared at me for a few minutes, I stared back at her, and we both wondered who was going to make the first move. In the end, I decided it had better be me, so I walked over to the wall, watching her the whole time, and turned off the music centre at the wall.
She slowly took her headphones off and looked at me, in my open necked shirt and slacks, with the stocking over my head. She then said “Cool - you look like Clint Eastwood in that film. Are you going to tie me up and stuff a ball in my mouth?”
“I’m afraid I will have to tie you up,” I said quietly, “and gag you, but I’m not that cruel. Do you have any tape?”
Now, bear in mind she had bare arms and wrists, so tape was not going to be that much of a problem for her. She walked past me to the kitchen, and produced a large roll of grey duct tape.
“Thanks,” I said as I took it, “You seem remarkable calm.”
“Not the first time it’s happened,” she said as she looked at me, “Mum and me were held hostage once. But I like your face, and your funny accent - you’re not going to hurt me, are you?”
I shook my head and turned her round, taping her wrists together behind her back and then round her waist, before I helped her to lie on a couch and taped her ankles and legs together.
“I won’t use a ball,” I said as I reached into my pocket, “but I will put this handkerchief in your mouth before I tape over it. It won’t hurt you as much.”
“I can take that,” she said as she opened her mouth and allowed me to push the cloth in, closing her lips over it. I stole a little kiss, and then covered her mouth with three strips of duct tape, before leaving her to settle while I found the print.
Before I left, I checked she was all right, and then made my way out of there, leaving the tape on the kitchen table.
I don’t do that too often, but it pays the bills sometimes. I do, however, do favours for friends as well. In 1995, one of the rising stars of the British cinema industry was a young actress called Julie York. She had long brown hair, stood about six foot tall, and was best known at the time for playing a DC in a crime series.
There was a script that called for her to play the part of a decoy for a young princess that was going to be kidnapped, and ending up in the hands of one of the kidnappers when he breaks into the house she is staying in. She had asked the police officers on the show who acted as consultants if they could tell her what it would be like, and one of them said he knew someone who might be able to help.
So when I got a call from old “Bulldog” Drummond, asking if I would act as a gentleman nabber, I agreed. All he gave me was the date and time, and said “Just be yourself.”
So, come the appointed date and time, I knocked on the door of this house in West London, to find Julie standing on the other side. She was dressed do a party, in a stunning black strapless dress with an embroidered top and a flared knee length skirt, as well as a pair of cork wedged heeled sandals.
“Yes,” she said as she looked at me, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, “How can I help you?”
“Miss Julie York?”
She nodded, and then gasped as I produced a gun and pushed her back into the house. A fake of course, but remember she knew nothing of what was going on. So I took her arm, led her into the front room and said “Pull the blinds - now.”
“All right,” she whimpered as she walked to the windows and let the blinds drop, leaving the room shaded with little lines of light.
“Right,” I said as I reached into my jacket pocket and took out a roll of black electrical tape, “Sit down, get comfy, and then tape your ankles together.”
“I’m sorry?” She looked at me, then at the gin, before sitting in an armchair and then taking the roll of tape from me. I watched as she put her ankles together and wound the tape several times round.
“Make sure it’s tight,” I said as she did this, and then tore it free. “Now your legs below your knees,” I said, and watched as the good little girl did as she was told, casting frightened looks at me as she did so.
“Why are you doing this,” she whimpered as she tore the tape loose and smoothed it down.
“You’ll see, “I said quietly, “now your legs above your knees.” I watched as she taped them together as well, just below the hem of her skirt, than looked at me.
“Take this,” I then said as from my other jacket pocket I produced a large handkerchief, “Put it in your mouth, and then wind the tape round your head to keep it in.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Would you prefer if I did it,” was my response as I stepped forward, the cloth in my hand. She shook her head, took the handkerchief and filled her mouth with it, before tearing the tape loose, sticking the end to her right cheek and then wrapping it round her head three times, trapping her hair as she pulled the tape between her lips.
“Good,” I said as I put the gun down, and then took the tape from her. “Turn your back to me, and cross your wrists behind your back.”
It only took me a few minutes to tape her wrist together, and then wrap the tape around her waist to secure them further. Two more bands, around her arms and stomach, and then her bare shoulders, and Julie York was secured and gagged.
“Scared,” I said as I knelt next to her and stroked her cheek with my gloved hand. She nodded as she looked at me, eyes wide.
“Good - then now you know how to act the part,” I said as I stood up and lifted the handset of her phone. “It’s me,” I said as she watched me, “You can come and talk to her now.” I sat and waited until the door opened and Drummond came in, looking at Julie and saying “I hope you know how it feels now.”
She forgave me - eventually, but that’s another story. Did you see the story in the news last week about the mother and daughter who were rescued from the kidnappers? What you may not know is the part I played in that...
I had been employed to do a house clearance out on the broods by the family of the owner - he had passed away a month or so previously. Anyway, they had left me the keys and said to go in any time, so three weeks ago I drove to the village, parked at the public car park, walked to the house and let myself in.
The house seemed quiet enough, but something just did not seem right. Maybe it was just my professional sense, but I could tell someone had been there recently. As I checked the kitchen, I found the door at the back had been opened using the old heated screwdriver trick, and there were empty sandwich wrappers and drink bottles on the table.
I was about to call the police when I notice a door at the far side of the kitchen open. Walking over, I could see that the door opened onto a set of stairs, and I could hear some noises coming from the bottom of the staircase.
I slowly made my way down, and stopped when I could see the cellar but not be seen from there. There were two women there - and one of them would not be able to see me anyway.
She was standing in front of a mattress, wearing nothing more than a black satin blouse or nightshirt, dark stockings and heels. She had long curly black hair that fell down her back, and her wrists were manacled behind her back with leather cuffs. Looking at her feet, I could see similar cuffs around her ankles, and they seemed to be attached to a wooden base under the mattress.
Rope had been passed under her arms, and was secured to a hook high on the cellar wall. Her head was turned away from me, but I could see the two blue scarves around her head - one used as a blindfold, the other as some sort of gag.
Looking to the other side, I was a young girl sitting in a chair, dressed in a black sweater, a short leather skirt and knee length leather boots. She had long brown hair, and was obviously tied to the chair. Her hands were behind her back, and a length of rope was around her arms and stomach. Her ankles had been tied to the bottom of the front legs of the chair, while her knees had been pulled together and bound tightly with more rope. Finally, her mouth and jaw were covered in silver tape, keeping whatever was in her mouth that puffed her cheeks out firmly in place.
I recognised her - she was the daughter of a certain industrial leader who had disappeared from her home two weeks ago. Nothing had been officially announced, but - well, I have unofficial lines of news. Her mother had also disappeared at the same time, and I guessed that was the other woman.
One other thing I remembered from my contacts - the gang had almost killed the elderly housekeeper when they left her bound and gagged with a cloth over her head, and she had a panic attack. For that reason alone, I felt morally obliged to get out of the house, and call the police - who arrived at the same time as the kidnappers returning with the ransom.
Yeah, I know - but there is crime and there is depravity, and I like to think I know the difference. More tea?