A Serving of Fear
When Helen Struthers answered the door, she was immediately impressed by the woman who was standing outside. Dressed in a black coat, she looked at the tall woman who had answered.
“Mrs Struthers? We’re from Home Catering – I believe you ordered a home buffet and wine service for tonight?”
Helen looked past the blonde haired woman at two others at the back of the grey van. Both were dressed in long sleeved white blouses and black trousers, and had bowties showing beneath their wing collars. They were unloading a number of trays with sandwiches and other snacks on them.
“Good – how long will you need to get ready?”
“If you could show me the way to the kitchen, then we can get started and be ready in about an hour.”
“Come with me. What can I call you?”
“Jane. Jane Smith.”
Helen showed Jane to her large kitchen, and watched as the woman removed her coat to reveal the same outfit as her co-workers.
“You have a fine kitchen, Mrs Struthers. We’ll get right to work. When do your first guests arrive?”
Helen glanced at her watch, “In one hour. If you will excuse me, I have to go and get ready.”
Jane nodded, and as Helen left the kitchen the other two women started to bring the trays of food in. They silently laid the trays on the work areas as Jane went to collect the rest of their goods.
Helen was standing in her front room, talking to one of her guests. Jane was taking round glasses of wine, as the other two women from Home Catering walked around with trays of nibbles. She was dressed in a long blue gown, with a light blue scarf wrapped around her neck and shoulders, and blue leather shoes. Claire, the other half of the conversation, was holding her glass of wine and taking small sips. She was dressed in a red jumper and leather skirt, and wore knee length red leather boots.
Three other women were in the room, making up Helen’s full party for the night. All three were sat in leather armchairs, talking about everything and nothing. The five of them together formed the PTA for the local secondary school, and met once a month to discuss fund raising and other school related activities. Helen’s dress was designed both to reinforce her position as the chair of the committee, and her perceived place in the society ladder of the locality.
“Thank you,” she said as Jane took her empty glass and offered her another. “So tell me, Claire, how are things with your husband?”
“They could be better, but thanks for asking. Who are these people anyway?”
“The caterers? They came recommended. They do a good job, don’t they?”
As she spoke, one of the two other assistants left the room, after placing her tray of snacks on a side table. A few minutes later, the second assistant did the same thing.
“Jane?” Helen called out.
“Yes, Mrs Struthers?”
“Where have your colleagues gone?”
“They must have gone to check supplies. Would you like me to find out what has happened?”
“No – we’ll start our meeting now anyway. If you could make sure that everyone has a full glass?”
Jane nodded and went back round the room, as Helen asked the four other women to sit at the table in the room.
“Ladies, shall we make a start?”
The five began talking about various matters, and Jane quietly left the room, making her way towards the kitchen.
The other two women were waiting for her, having a drink of water and examining the contents of a number of bags they had brought in with them.
“Are we ready?”
The darker haired woman looked up. “I think so – have you disabled the phone line?”
Jane nodded. “I think we have a few minutes before Jane comes in and sees what is going on. I think we need to start to get ready.” Saying this, she undid her bowtie and started to unbutton her blouse.
“So we are agreed on what the Prom charity should be?”
The four other women nodded at Helen’s comment.
“Well, why don’t we take a break? Does anyone want another drink?”
“I would,” Claire said, “but there doesn’t seem to be any wine here. Shall I go and see what’s happened?”
“No, I’ll go,” Helen said as she stood up. “Please, talk amongst yourselves.”
She made her way out of the room and down towards the kitchen.
“Jane, can you bring some m…..”
Helen was looking at the other two waitresses standing in the kitchen. Both had their hands clasped behind their heads, and were standing with rolled up napkins stuffed into their mouths, preventing them from calling out. The door from the kitchen to the rear of the house was open, and the cool evening air was blowing in. She stood there, dumbfounded, until a hand landed on her shoulder and she saw from the corner of her eye a gun against her temple.
“Who’s there?” Helen whispered, and as if in response she was turned so that she saw her reflection in a mirror. Standing behind her was a woman, of about the same height, but dressed in a grey bodysuit with a hood that went over her head. Where her face should have been visible, a white doll mask could be seen, and Helen also noticed the grey gloves over the woman’s hands.
“What do you want?” she said as the masked woman turned her round, but in reply all she got was the assailant putting her finger to her lips. Transfixed with a mixture of fear and rage, Helen watched as the woman pointed her gun at the two waitresses, indicating that they should both kneel down. As they did so, she reached up and pulled the long scarf off Helen’s shoulders.
“Is this a robbery?”
The masked woman nodded and cocked her head to one side, looking at Helen all the time. She lifted the scarf in front of the eye slits in her mask, and then handed the scarf back to Helen.
“Do you…. Do you want me to blindfold myself with this?”
Again the masked woman nodded, and Helen folded the scarf in half before tying it tightly over her eyes, with the knot behind her head. Letting her arms drop to her side, she said “all right – now what?”
In reply, the masked woman turned Helen round so that her back was to her. She listened as there were sounds of something being taken from a bag, and then felt something soft being draped over her shoulders. Helen wondered what this could be, as it was wrapped around her arms and pulled gently back so that her hands were pulled up behind her back. It was only slowly that she realised her arms were being wrapped in rope, and her wrists bound together behind her back, with rope slowly and carefully wrapped around her arms and chest.
“What are you doing?” Helen called out with real fear in her voice, but no answer was given. What she could not see was, as the rope was being used to bind her upper body, the other two waitresses stood up and silently began to remove their blouses and trousers, as well as their shoes, to reveal similar grey bodysuits. Stuffing the napkins fully into their mouths, they each removed a surgical mask from a holdall and placed it over their mouth, before taking a white mask each and placing it over their faces. Pulling the hoods of their bodysuits over their heads, so that only the white showed, they each donned a pair of grey gloves and soft grey shoes, carefully stowing their outer clothes in the bag, before each taking a pistol and standing to one side.
The first woman looked over, nodded at the other two, then taking Helen by the arm she opened the kitchen door and guided Helen out, the other two following behind.
“Helen, did you…. Ohmygod!!”
Claire stood up as Helen re-entered the front room, but followed by three woman dressed in grey and with white masks, as well as the fact that Helen was securely bound around the arms and chest and her scarf was over her eyes as a blindfold. One of the women was carrying a holdall, which she placed quietly on the floor while watching them all the time.
“Claire, please will you and the other women stay calm. I don’t know what’s going on here, but just try to stay calm.”
Claire looked at the three women, standing there in silence and holding pistols at the four women.
“You…. You’re the China Doll Gang, aren’t you?” She said, and the woman holding Helen by the arm nodded. One of the other two looked at the four women, and placed her hands behind her head to indicate they should do the same.
“Oh God,” Helen whispered, “You want my valuables don’t you?”
Again the woman nodded.
“Why don’t you say anything?”
“They won’t – they never do,” Claire said as she raised her hands and put them behind her head. “Ladies, I suggest you do as they ask us to, or we may be in real trouble.”
The other three women slowly did as Claire had, and the masked Doll looked over the four of them standing there. The Doll behind Helen guided her towards one of the velvet couches in the room, and sat her down.
“I’m so sorry, everyone, I walked into the kitchen and two of the waitresses were being held at gunpoint by this one. Are they here?”
“No,” Claire replied, “there’s just the three of them dressed in grey.”
“What have you done with the caterers?” Helen called out, but a gloved hand was placed over her mouth to silence her.
Meanwhile, the third doll had taken a long skein of white rope from the bag, and had motioned to one of the three other women to come over and join her.
“Susan, do as she says, please,” Helen said, and Susan walked over to where the doll was standing. She was wearing a black silk blouse and linen skirt, with black ankle boots. As she stood there facing the Doll, the rope was handed to the third gang member, who doubled it over, made a small loop and then draped it over Susan’s shoulders.
The three others watched as, within five minutes, the rope was used to secure Susan’s arms and wrists behind her back, then wrapped around her chest so that her arms formed a box shape. Her wrists were bound and secured to the other ropes, and she found herself unable to move them from her side.
The Doll then pointed at another of the women, who was standing in a white coat dress with a wide brown leather belt around her waist and brown suede boots, and motioned for her to come over as well. As her arms and wrists were also bound in the same way, the first Doll took a further length of rope and began to bind Helen’s legs together above her knees, before passing the rope down and securing her ankles together as well.
“What’s happening, Claire,” Helen asked as the rope was tied off behind her ankles.
“They’ve tied the arms of Susan and Zoë the same way as yours, and now it looks like they’re going to gag them.”
The two Dolls took one of the large cloth napkins that were lying on the side, rolled them into bands and tied a knot in the middle. Standing behind Susan and Zoë, they held the knots in front of their mouths and waited for them to open them wide. As both women did so, the knots were pulled into their mouths and the ends of the napkins brought round behind their heads, before they were tied off in the nape of the neck.
The Doll who had bound Helen’s legs stood up, and nodded to the other two before taking Susan and Zoë by the arm and leading them put of the room. The three remaining women listened as the sound of steps up the staircase receded.
“Now what,” Claire asked as one of the two remaining dolls went behind her and began to drape a length of rope around her shoulders. “Jenny, are you going to be alright?”
The final woman nodded silently as she too started to have her wrists and arms bound by the third doll. She was dressed in a grey sweater and slacks, and started to cry softly as her arms were pulled behind her back.
“Please, Jenny, Claire, tell me what’s happening.”
“One of the gang has taken Zoë and Susan upstairs, I think, and Jenny and I are being tied up now. What do you think they might be doing up there?”
“I’ve no idea,” Claire said as the last knot was tied around her arms. She and Jenny were then helped to sit on the floor, back to back, as each of the Dolls took a length of rope and started to tie their legs and ankles together.
“Please, can you take this off my eyes? I want to see what’s happening,” Helen said, and in response light hit her closed eyes as the scarf was removed. Blinking, she saw the other two women sat on her floor, as more rope was round their chests and arms to hold the two of them together.
“My god – are you two all right?”
“I think so, are you all right Jenny,” Claire asked, and the other captive silently nodded her head.
The Dolls stood up, and as had happened earlier they each took a napkin and rolled it into a band before tying a knot in the middle. Helen watched as both Jenny and Claire were gagged, and their ropes checked, before the two Dolls came over and stood Helen up. Between them the half carried, half marched Helen out of the room, leaving her friends struggling behind them.
From the kitchen Helen could hear the sounds of struggling and muffled calls, and she assumed the waitresses were in the same situation she and her friends were in as the Dolls helped her to climb the stairs. Through an open doorway, she could see Zoë and Susan lying on her bed. Both women had their legs bound together as well, and their ankles pulled up in a hog tie behind their backs.
The third Doll emerged from a room, and motioned to the others to bring Helen into the bathroom. Inside, they helped her to sit on the lowered toilet seat.
“So what happens now?” She asked the three women standing there. The Dolls looked at each other, before the leader took a flannel from the sink and held it in front of Helen’s mouth.
“Fair enough,” she said in a resigned manner, and opened her mouth to allow the damp cloth to be pushed in. A Doll then removed the sash from a robe that was hanging on the bathroom door, and wound it several times around and in Helen’s mouth to hold it in place. Checking the ropes, the three then looked at each other and closed the bathroom door behind them as they left.
Helen sat and listened as sounds came through of doors and drawers being opened, and then steps descending the staircase. A silence descended over the house, until the sound of a vehicle pulling away could be heard receding down the road. She sat still for another fifteen minutes, until she was satisfied that the only sound that could be heard was the moaning and struggling of her fellow captives.
Standing as best she could, Helen made her way towards the door and tried the handle. To her surprise, it swung open and she began to hop down the corridor. Through the open doors, she could see where her safe and other boxes had been opened and emptied, but she knew the fact everyone else was still captive was the primary thing to deal with.
Pausing at her bedroom, she looked in at Zoë and Susan.
“Hw r u?” She called out, and the two women looked up at her.
“Hlp s, hln, pls hlp s,” Susan called out.
“Sty stl – m gng t gt hlp” she mumbled back and continued to make her way to the top of the stairs. Helen managed to slide down onto the floor, and slowly bumped down the stairs.
Reaching the foot, she could hear both Claire and Jenny trying to call for help to the street outside. Forcing herself to stand again, she hopped past the two women towards the kitchen, both to see how the waitresses were and to try and find a knife to free herself.
Pushing the swing door open, Helen was amazed to discover that the kitchen was empty, and where she had expected to see three trussed and gagged women was – well, nothing. What caught her attention, however, was a note on the table, and hopping over she bent over to read it.
If you are reading this, then you have managed to make your way from the bathroom to the kitchen, and doubtless you are wondering where your caterers are.
Let me put your mind at ease – they are safe. You should know, however, that we replaced them this evening, and you were instead served wine by the China Doll gang.
Please be assured it was our pleasure both to serve you, and to serve ourselves to your valuables. Do not castigate your friend, either – she made a genuine recommendation. We just got there first.
Good luck in freeing yourself and your friends.
The China Doll Gang
Helen read the note three times, and then let out a muffled scream of anger.
Some distance away, in a small suburban house, one of the Dolls was taking the wigs they had worn and adding them to the bag of clothes for disposal.
“A good night,” she said as she tied the bag off.
“Yes, but I could do without that cloth in my mouth. Can’t we find a better way to stay silent?”
“Well,” the third said as she examined the takings, “I’m open to suggestions….”