Cassie glanced up at the clock on the wall as she wiped the glasses that had just been cleaned. Showing ten minutes to eleven, she put the glass back in the holder and looked round. One or two new people were sitting finishing their drinks – a small group of men by the bar, three or four women round one of the tables, not many more. At one booth sat three other women, looking in their turn at Cassie and motioning with their empty glasses. She shook her head, glancing again at the clock as she did so, and they placed the glasses down on the table, waiting for time to pass.
She watched as one of the larger group of women stood and made her way to the toilets, her long skirt swishing as she walked past the bar. Cassie looked at her and smiled, receiving in turn a nod as the blonde made her way through the door. She turned as Angie made her way through from the back and rang the bell that hung from the top of the bar.
“Time Gentlemen please, let’s have your glasses,” she called out. As the landlady of the Three Bells, she had to enforce the law as laid down, and that meant telling people when to stop and leave. The men and smaller group of women drained their glasses and made their way out, Angie beaming at them as she stood by the door before closing and bolting the main door. She turned round and walked towards the bar, the heels of her shoes clicking on the wooden floor.
“All right for awhile longer, Cassie,” she said with a smile as she brushed her greying hair back. Cassie looked at her boss as she stood there, a grey waistcoat over her white blouse and the hem of her peasant skirt hanging just below her knee.
“Of course I am, boss,” she said as she reached down and pulled out a bottle of champagne. “Girls – let’s have that birthday drink now.”
“It’s a lock-in, ladies,” Angie said as she brought a tray of glasses round. The three women clapped as she motioned to Cassie to sit down at the table with them. “It’s Judy’s birthday, and we need to celebrate.”
Judy smiled as the bottle of champagne was opened. Cassie’s younger sister, she shared her auburn hair and blue eyes with her elder sibling, but unlike Cassie she was dressed in a simple denim blouse and jeans. Cassie was wearing a tight leopard skin top that was probably a size too small for her, with tight leather trousers and gold ankle boots. The trousers squeaked as she sat down and accepted a glass.
“So you’re 21 for the first time, sis – how does it feel?”
“I’ll answer that when I’ve been it for a while – what’s the plan?”
“A few drinks here, then off to the nightclub to dance the night away. Coming with us, Angie?”
“That’s a young woman’s game - I have the cashing up to do,” the older woman said in reply as she looked at the group. Besides Cassie and Judy, there was a red haired girl in a micro skirt and vest top that had been introduced to her as Babs, and a tall woman with bleach blonde hair that was called Zoe. She had shaken Angie’ hand when she came in, and the manageress had noticed the floral scent from her perfume. She was wearing a red flight suit, with a black belt around her waist and a scarf around her neck, and smiled as she talked with the others.
As the five women sat and drank, the door of the ladies’ toilet opened slightly and a grey gloved hand held it just open enough to hear and see what was going on. After a few moments, the door closed silently again, and the lights were silently turned off.
Zoe shook her head as the bottle was passed around. “No thanks,” she said as she stood up, “I need to visit the little ladies room.” She walked off towards the door, turning the internal light on as she entered and looking for an empty cubicle. Closing the door behind her, she unbuttoned the front of her outfit, cursing the fact these things were not made with feminine comfort in mind, as she pulled the suit down and made herself comfortable.
As she readjusted her clothing, pulling the lever as she did so, Zoe unbolted the door to let herself out. As the door swung upon, she stopped in shock at the figure that was standing in front of her, pointing a small pistol at her chest and with a gloved finger to the lips of her mask. The woman looked at her for a few moments, before raising her hands above her head and slowly turning round as the masked person indicated. As the ends of a long length of rope were dropped over her shoulders, she felt the soft material of the gloved hands as her arms were gently pulled down, and the ends of rope swiftly passed around them, pulling them back behind her.
A few minutes later, she glared at the masked person as the cubicle door was slowly closed on her, blocking her view of the toilet and of anyone else who might enter. She could hear the women talking, and eventually the sound of footsteps coming closer and the door opening.
“Zoe, are you in here?” Babs looked round the empty toilet, wondering where her friend had gone to. “We need to be on our way – are you all right?” She heard grunting coming from behind the door of one cubicle, and slowly pushed the door open.
“Zoe – dear god,” Babs whispered as she saw her friend sitting on the toilet, her eyes wide and looking behind her. Babs slowly turned round, and stared at the white face that was looking back at her, featureless and unmoving. Her eyes went from the face to the pistol being held in the grey gloved hand that was pointing at her, and the large coil of rough grey rope that was in the other hand, a small loop tied in the centre. “Oh shit,” she said as the armed person passed the rope over the other arm and took her, spinning her round and pushing her against the wall by the sinks.
“Come on, girls,” Cassie shouted towards the toilet door, “how long does it take to put a bit more slap on?”
She leant back against the chair, crossing her legs in a way that made Judy wince as the material creaked, and looked towards the back lit door. Angie smiled and shook her head as she stood up.
“Given how much you three have drunk, it’s entirely possible they’ve fallen asleep,” she said as she walked towards the door. “I’ll go and see what’s happened.” She turned and walked into the toilet, calling out “Come on girls – your friends are getting restless”, but stopped in her tracks as she saw another woman standing there, dressed entirely in grey and with a featureless white mask covering her face where it should have been visible through the hood over her head.
Angie looked from the masked woman to the doors to the cubicles, and caught a glimpse of a pair of bare ankles with grey rope passed round them sticking out. The muffled calls also indicated what exactly had happened to both Zoe and Babs, which the masked woman indicated was true by a slight nod of the head as she raised her hand and pointed a small pistol straight at Angie.
“Is this a robbery?” she asked, to which the white faced intruder replied by cocking her head to one side and looking directly at her. Angie swallowed, staring at the featureless woman as she started to walk towards her, motioning with her gun for her to turn round as she did so. Taking her by the arm, she led Angie through the door and back into the lounge bar.
“Aggie, where have they,” Cassie said when she looked up on hearing the door open, but the words caught in her throat as she saw the woman standing behind her boss. She was dressed all in grey, with soft shoes and gloves on her hands. A hood covered her head, and the only thing visible where the face should have been was a featureless white mask. She stood up as her sister turned and stared at the couple that had walked in, only to sit back down when she saw the pistol pointing at her.
“Girls, I don’t know why, but the others are in the bathroom and they won’t be joining us for a while,” Angie said as she was led towards the main doors. The couple stopped there, the masked woman looking at Cassie and Judy the whole time, as she turned Angie to face the door.
“What do you want me to do,” she whispered, and the grey clad intruder simply pointed to the bolts with her spare hand. “You want me to open the doors,” she said quietly, and the imperceptible nod told her she had guessed correctly. Reaching up with trembling hands, she pulled the bolts down and wondered what would happen next.
The doors swung out, and two women dressed in an identical manner to the first intruder slipped in carrying two bags with them. As one took Angie and walked her over to where Cassie and Judy were sitting, the other bolted the doors shut again and nodded to the first woman. She motioned to the new arrivals to join her as the trio faced their three captives.
Judy looked at the trio, their featureless faces gazing back at them, and swallowed. “I’ve heard of you,” she said as she looked at the eye slits of each one, “You’re the China Doll Gang, aren’t you?” The Doll who had been in the toilets nodded and put a gloved finger to her lips.”
“But… We’re just a local pub here, what could you possibly want from us,” Angie said as she stared at the trio. She had also seen the report in the papers, and wondered why they had targeted her of all people. Any hopes she had of an answer seemed to fade as the three stood there, almost appearing to be appraising their situation.
“Where are Zoe and Babs,” Cassie asked angrily as she stood up, “I demand you take me to see them!” The Dolls looked at each other, before one of the new arrivals placed her bag on the bar top and opened it, pulling out a large skein of brown rope as she did so. Shaking it out, she found the middle and quickly tied a loop there, before the other Doll took Cassie by the arm and pulled her into the centre of the room, turning her to face Angie and Judy.
The two watched, unable to move through both fear and some fascination, as the Doll draped the length of rope over Cassie’s shoulders, the loop centred at the back of her neck and the ends draping in front of her down to the floor. She took hold of the ends with her gloved hands and started to wrap the rope around Cassie’s arms, the rope tightening around her skin with each pass as they were pulled towards her side and around her back. Cassie could feel the way her arms were being drawn together, and glancing over her shoulder she saw her wrists coming together, one on top of the other, as the masked Doll wrapped the rope around and between them, securing them in place, before she passed the loose ends through the loop and pulled so that they were raised against her back.
“Oh shit,” was all she said as the rope were them assed around her arms and chest, securing them to her sides and pulling the fabric of her top over her already prominent breasts. As the ends were passed between her upper arms and chest, they were tightened so that she was unable to move her arms at all. It wasn’t uncomfortable as such, but it was tight, and she knew there was no escape. The Doll twisted her round, checking the binding to her satisfaction, before nodding to the other two as she took Cassie by the arm, leading her to the toilets. Looking back, she saw one of them take Judy by the arm as she stared pleading to them to leave her alone.
The toilet door swung open, and Cassie could hear muffled groans coming from the cubicles. As the Doll led her to the doors, she gasped at the sight of her tow friends sitting there, trying to raise their calls and failing miserably. Zoe and Babs had been bound in the same way as Cassie, with rope snaking around their upper arms before they disappeared behind their backs, and then passed around their chest to hold them in place. Both also had their ankles and legs bound together with a further long length, the fabric of Zoe’s trousers pulled tightly around their legs above her knees while Cassie could see some bruising around Babs’ thighs. Both also had thick scarves in their mouths, knots tied in the middle and forced between their teeth, muting any calls that they might make.
“Are you two all right?” Cassie said as he friends looked at her, the tear stained mascara trails running down their cheeks. A grunt was all she got in reply, but in Zoe’s eyes she thought she caught a glimpse of understanding. “Is this about you and Judy,” she said, and Zoe simply nodded her head. “Damn,” was all Cassie had chance to say before she saw a dark band pass before her eyes, and looking down she saw a red bandana in front of her mouth, a knot tied in the middle of the band and grey gloved hands holding either end. As the knot was pulled between her teeth, she mumbled “M I g bck thru?” to which the Doll nodded as she secured the two ends of the scarf together at the base of her neck.
Judy was sat at the end of the bench, watching the coarse brown rope as it was passed around her jeans at the ankles, when she heard the door swing open again. She looked up to see Cassie being brought back over, her teeth around a red scarf that had been tied in her mouth, and made to sit at the other end of the booth.
“Whrs gns,” Cassie mumbled as she watched the Doll take a length of rope and double it over.
“The third one took her in the back – I think they’re in her office,” Judy said as she winced while the rope was passed between her ankles, pulling the rope more tightly around them. “Do you have to be so rough?” She asked the Doll who looked up at her with her white face and said nothing. "This silence creeps me out,” Judy said as she looked up at her sister and frowned. “Some birthday, huh?” she said with a sad smile, and Cassie nodded in return. She didn’t have the heart tot tell her that this may all be a diversion – that what they were really after was what she and Zoe had with them.
“Please, just take the money and leave us alone,” Angie said as she sat in the wooden chair in her office, her arms secured to the arms rests by a long length of rope that had been passed around them, then around her body and the lattice work in the chair back so that she was very effectively lashed in place. The rope crossed her chest, making her breasts more visible through the white blouse, and she barely had enough room to be able to breathe comfortably.
The Doll was kneeling on the floor, looking through the contents of the safe and storing several bags of money and notes in her holdall. She glanced up at the woman, cocking her head to one side as she did so, and turned back to her work.
Angie looked down to the ropes that held her lap tightly to the chair seat, and again tried to move her ankles. The rope that was wound round them had been secured to the central pillar that supported the seat, and her toes were barely touching the floor, but she still attempted to shake them loose. As she did so, she felt the rope roughly rub against her skin below her knees; bruising her skin and making her feel even more helpless.
She did have one comforting thought – whoever this woman was, the security cameras would have caught her – she must have been in the bar that night, and the police would be able to search through them.
The Doll closed the safe door, stood up and placed the now full holdall on the desk beside Angie. The manageress watched as she took a large blue bandana from the bag, folded it into a wide band and tied a large knot in the middle, before walking behind her and holding the scarf in front of her closed mouth.
“Do I have a choice,” Angie asked sarcastically as she looked over her shoulder, to which the Doll merely shook her head. “Damn,” was her only response as she opened her mouth and allowed the intruder to pull the cloth knot between her teeth, pulling tightly as she knotted the ends together behind her head. She watched as the Doll walked round to the desk, and then looked at her through the white mask. Angie’ eyes widened as she opened a small cabinet against the wall behind the desk, and revealed the security camera centre with the DVD recorded that captured everything that went on in the bar. Pressing a button, she opened the disk holders and retrieved four silver disks, placing them in a plastic bag and sealing it before she placed it in the holdall. Nodding at Angie, the Doll turned off the lights in the office and closed the door on the now cursing woman as she struggled in the chair.
The squeak of her leather trousers against the ropes was really starting to irritate Cassie as she lay on her stomach, looking over at her sister on the other side of the booth. Both women had been made to lie down while their ankles were pulled back and secured to the ropes around their upper body. A purple scarf had been tied into Judy’s mouth to silence her, as the two Dolls collected the handbags of all four women and emptied the contents onto the table.
As the third Doll joined them, Judy watched the trio looking carefully through the items on the table, until they came to her purse. She tensed as they opened the small black wallet and started to work through the cards she kept there, until they found a plain white one with a black stripe down one side. She raised her head, the blue material stretching over her chest as she did so, and shook her head as the sound of “NNNNNN” came from her gagged mouth. One of the Dolls looked at her, cocked her head and put a gloved finger to her lips as she placed the card in a pocket in her suit, and replaced the purse on the table. Another Doll had also found Zoe’s purse, and was removing a similar card from that as Judy let her head fall back on the leather. She looked over at Cassie, who stared back with tear filled eyes, showing she too had understood what exactly was happening here.
Cassie was one of the few people who knew what Judy and Zoe did for a living – for very good reason. When wither girls was asked what their job was, they usually said “Secretary”, and that was true – in the most literal sense of the word. The firm they worked for was a dealer in rare items – coins, jewellery and so on – and both girls held the security keys to allow access to the main vault at their office. It was plain to Judy – and to Zoe as she continued to try and get free in the cubicle – that the Dolls were using this as the first stage to get access to the vault, and they had no way of warning the security staff of what was coming their way.
The Dolls looked at the two hogtied girls, before picking up their bags and making for the rear exit behind the bar. As they turned off the lights, Cassie listened to the sound of the door closing and then started to thrash around, the squeak of leather on leather being the loudest sound on the room. Judy lay there, wondering how she was going to get free from such a tight binding – she had tried to find the knots with her fingers, but with no success.
Time passed, with the ticking of the clock for a long while the only sound over than the squeaking. That subsided in time as Cassie grew more and more tired, the rope raising red lines either side of the loops where it had rubbed against her skin. She could see her sister in the dim light, lying there and not moving, and wanted to help her. It was no use, however – in fact, the sweat she had worked up was making her more uncomfortable than before.
The noise of the toilet door opening caused both women to raise their heads and look up, as Zoe slowly pushed the door open with her body, taking little shuffling steps until she leaned back and looked at the two bound and gagged friends. Gathering her strength, she started to hop towards the booth, little tiny steps as she struggled to maintain her balance.
In an office complex on the other side of the town centre, the two women looked up as the Dolls swiped the two white cards through readers, unable to stop them opening the large safe and examining the contents inside. They were identically bound, with a lasso of rope over their arms and chest, their wrists tied together in front of them and onto their legs as they were pulled up in front of them, and their booted ankles lashed and cinched. The wide strips of tape over their mouths meant all they could do was offer muffled yelps to stop as the safe was slowly emptied.
Judy shuffled back on her stomach as Zoe sat down on the edge of the leather seat, a gasp of air escaping from her gagged mouth as she did so. Motioning with her head for Judy to wriggle back, she held her hands out as far as she could to reach towards her colleague’s mouth. Eventually, she managed to slide her finger under the purple cotton, and slowly started to ease the knot out of her mouth. It took a while, but eventually Judy was able to gasp as the saliva soaked knot fell onto the leather.
“Zoe, you are amazing,” she said eventually, and she saw her friend smile over the cloth in her own mouth. “Listen – have they left one of our cell phones there on the table?”
Zoe looked up and nodded.
“Great – see if you can get and dial 911 . We may not be able to stop the robbery, but at least we can get some help for us and the girls.”
Cassie watched, fascinated, as Zoe stood herself up, hopped to the side of the table and leaned back to pick up one of their mobile phones. Judy looked over, smiled and said “Training – you think the company does not expect this to happen sometimes?”