ANNIE’S BOUTIQUE – GOWNS AND DRESSES FOR THE MODERN WOMAN
Bobbie was standing behind the counter, watching the two owners Annie and Tracy talking to the customers as they looked over the dresses in their exclusive shop. Most of the items – sorry, ALL of the items were outside her price range, but the two women paid good wages and it was the shop floor experience that Bobbie was after rather than the chance to try on the dresses.
Having said that, she was glad that Annie had said she could borrow one particular gown for her graduation ball. She was staring at it now – a magnificent creation in cream silk, with a strapless bodice and a floor length skirt that was studded with small pearls.
Bobbie snapped out of her thoughts, and looked up at the customer standing in front of her. She was quietly dressed, in a grey roll neck sweater and pants, and was carrying a number of sundresses in her arm.
“Would it be possible for me to try these on?”
“Of course, Madam, if you would care to follow me?”
Bobbie walked with the customer to the rear of the store, where a number of discreet dressing rooms were maintained. The young woman pulled her large handbag up and over her head, so that the strap was diagonal across her jumper.
“In here, Madam. If you need any assistance, please ring the bell.”
Bobbi closed the door behind the customer, and walked back to the desk. Annie and Tracy insisted that while in the shop, Bobbie was appropriately dressed, and today she had worn a black blouse with a blue jacket and skirt. She smoothed the skirt down as she resumed her position behind the desk.
Some time passed as customers came and went, and Bobbie watched from the desk. Eventually, Annie walked up to join her. She had started the boutique some years back, and always maintained in the running of the shop that manners and smartness were key to her customers. For her, she was being positively casual in her attire today of a light blue sweater under a dark blue pinafore dress, and blue suedette boots.
“I think that’s the last customer for today, Bobbie – time to shut up shop I think.”
“One minute, Annie – did you see a blonde haired lady in a grey jumper and slacks leave the store?”
“I think she may still be in the changing rooms. If you want, I can go and check while you lock the door.”
Annie nodded at this suggestion, and Bobbie made her way back to the changing rooms.
“Excuse me, Madam, but are you still in here?” she called out, but there was no reply. She saw that one of the doors was still closed, so cautiously she pushed it open.
Folded neatly on the bench in the room were the sweater and trousers the woman had been wearing, and next to them was the large handbag. The sundresses were hanging on the wall, still on the hangers they had come in with. What caught Bobbie’s eye, however, was the fact that the woman was now dressed literally from head to toe in a grey hooded catsuit, and where her face should have been visible was a white featureless mask. The woman was looking at the young girl, with her head tilted to one side, and a grey gloved finger against the mouth of the mask to indicate Bobbie should be quiet. The small pistol pointed at her added a level of menace to that request.
“Oh my god,” Bobbie whispered under her breath as the woman indicated with her hand that she should turn round, producing a long length of rope from the handbag as she did so. She stood there paralysed with fear as the masked woman silently found the centre of the rope, made a small loop and then draped it over Bobbie’s shoulders with the loop at the base of the neck, before starting to wrap the ends of the rope around her arms.
“She’s taking her time,” Tracy said. She was the older partner in the boutique, having joined Annie when she was made redundant from a local firm, and provided the business acumen to complement Annie’s fashion sense. She looked towards the rear of the shop, pulling up the sleeve of her leather jacket to look at her watch,
“Give her a few more minutes – she probably went to the toilet before coming back,” Annie said as the sound of the rear entrance doorbell came through.
“I wonder who that is.” Tracy said as she made her way to the rear of the store, the sound of swishing from her corduroy pants following her as she walked away. Annie looked after her, and then began to count up the takings from the till.
Annie looked up at the sound of Bobbie’s voice, and stood back in shock at the sight before her. Bobbie had rope wrapped around her upper arms, chest and body, and her hands had been pulled behind her back in a way that obviously secured them. She was been escorted in by a woman dressed entirely in grey, including gloves and a hood, and with a white expressionless mask over her face. This woman was holding Bobbie’s arm with one hand, and pointing a pistol at Annie with the other.
“She’s not alone.”
Annie turned to see Tracy being escorted by two similarly clad women, one with a gun and the other carrying a holdall. She took a few minutes to take in the sight, then she quietly raised her hands.
“Girls, I think its best we do what they say. It’s not worth getting hurt over money and clothes. Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it”
“Annie,” Bobbie said, “This one hasn’t said a word since she surprised me. Have you heard of these people before?”
News items from the past came to Annie’s mind. Three girls robbed at the home of two of them in Nottingham. A supermarket manager forced to hand over takings. A jeweller raided where all the staff were bound and gagged. All saying the perpetrators never said a word….
“Are you the China Doll Gang?” Annie asked, and the woman behind Bobbie nodded.
“Tracy, do whatever they show you to do. Bobbie, don’t be afraid. What do you want me to do?”
The woman holding the bag placed it on a counter, opened it and handed a length of rope to her companion, before going over to Annie and taking her by the arm. Bobbie was helped to sit on the floor by her guard, who then removed a shorter length of rope from the bag, unravelled it and doubled it over before kneeling in front of Bobbie. She pushed Bobbie’s legs up slightly, folded back the hem of her skirt and started to wrap the rope around Bobbie’s legs above her knees.
As this was happening, Bobbie watched as Tracy had the rope draped over her shoulders, then quickly wrapped around her arms in such a way that they were pulled back and her wrists brought together. They were then bound behind her back, parallel to each other, and the rope passed through the loop at the back of Tracy’s neck so that they were pulled up. The remaining length was then passed around Tracy’s chest and arms, winding it through in such a way that by the time the final knot was tied she was as immobile as Bobbie.
She was so fascinated in watching this that Bobbie failed to notice that her own ankles had also been bound together. The rope around her legs had been cinched, and then passed down and wrapped around her ankles to secure them together as well. It was only when her legs were straightened back out and Tracy was sat down some way from her that she realised just how immobile she was. The Doll who had bound her stood up, removed another rope from the bag and started to wrap it around Tracy’s corduroy covered legs, then passed it down and around the brown leather boots she was wearing to complement her cashmere sweater. The second Doll started to look through the racks of dresses and gowns.
In the rear office, Annie watched as the Doll removed DVDs from the security camera recorders and placed them in a clear plastic bag. She too had been bound around the arms and chest in the same way as the other two, but was sat in the ornate wooden chair that she used to do the accounts on.
“Well, I guess that removes any chance of identifying you from the cameras,” she said, and the Doll turned towards her and nodded.
“So you never say anything?”
The Doll shook her head.
“I’ve been robbed a few times, but I must admit it’s refreshing not to be shouted at and threatened verbally. Please accept my compliments to you and your team on their efficiency.”
The Doll nodded and turned to the safe that was nestled under the desk. She pointed at it, and Annie knew what she was asking for,
“Well, there’s no point in fighting you” she sighed and proceeded to give her the combination. Once the safe was opened, the Doll started to empty the contents into one of the bags the store used for small items.
Annie and Tracy watched the other two Dolls as they took selections of the shop items out the rear of the building. Tracy had told Bobbie how she had been surprised when she opened the door by the two women, standing in the back of a grey transit van with the rear doors open. She had also told Tracy of the other times she and Annie had been robbed.
“Oh yes – you learn after the first time it’s better not to fight but to accept what will happen. The main thing is, Bobbie, don’t be scared whatever they do. It’s not worth panicking over.”
Bobbie watched with a growing sense of horror as the Dolls looked at the rack where the ball gown she had been promised was, and when they took it off the rack she couldn’t stop herself.
“Please,” she called out, “don’t take that one.”
The Dolls stopped and looked at Bobbie.
“I want to wear that to my graduation ball. Please, I beg of you, leave that one there, there’s not another like it anywhere else.”
The two robbers looked at each other, then walked over with the dress and placed it beside Bobbie. They looked in a manner that, even through the masks, Bobbie could see meant they were thinking about what to do.
Finally, one of the Dolls went behind the counter and after rummaging for a few minutes produced a large bag of the type they used for gowns. Opening it, the other Doll carefully placed the silk gown inside, and then closed the bag before placing it on top of the counter.
“Thank you,” Bobbie whispered as they started again to remove gowns from the building.
Annie winced as the Doll secured her bound ankles to the central pillar of the seat.
“I guess you’ll be on your way soon then?”
The Doll nodded as she closed the safe door, then left the room for a few minutes. Through the open door, Annie saw Bobbie sat quietly on the floor.
“Bobbie, are you and Tracy all right?” she called through the door, and Bobbie turned and nodded in reply.
“Good – remember, both of you stay calm no matter what happens,” Annie called back as the Doll returned with two scarves in her hand. One was a small chiffon square, while the other was a brown patterned Hermes scarf.
“I guess it’s time for you to gag me,” Annie said as the chiffon square was folded into a small ball. Opening her mouth, she offered no resistance as the Doll pushed it gently between her teeth, before rolling the Hermes scarf into a thick band and tying it into her mouth as well.
On the shop floor, Bobbie was watching as Tracy had the same gag applied to her mouth.
“Please,” she said as the Doll approached her, “I’m an asthmatic. Please, don’t put anything in my mouth.”
Tracy nodded to confirm this was the case – Bobbie was very open about this – and the doll put the chiffon square on the counter, settling instead for tying the larger scarf in her mouth without any packing. Bobbie relaxed as she realised she was still able to breath easily even with her mouth muffled in this way.
The three Dolls looked around, and silently left the shop by the rear entrance.
Bobbie and Tracy sat quietly, looking at each other, wondering who was going to make the first move. Bobbie had already tried to free her arms, but the knots were too tight and too far out of reach.
It was Tracy who made the first move, indicating with her head to Bobbie that she should make her way over to her. Shuffling over on her skirt, Bobbie slowly made her way over while Tracy turned herself round to the side. Eventually the two met back to back, and Tracy started to work on the knots holding the ropes around Bobbie in place.
It took time, but eventually Bobbie was able to bring her wrists round and pull the scarf out of her mouth. Tracy mmphed at Bobbie, who started to unravel the ropes holding her in place.
“Why do you think they left the gown I wanted?” She asked Tracy as she pulled the sodden chiffon scarf out of her own mouth.
“Maybe they liked you?” she said as the two women started to untie the ropes around their legs. Getting unsteadily to their feet, they made their way to the office where Annie was sitting waiting patiently to be untied.
As Tracy ungagged her and began to untie the ropes, Bobbie noticed an envelope on the table. Opening it, she pulled out a single sheet of folded paper and began to read it.
“The gang member left that there before she closed the door on me,” Annie said as she rubbed her wrists, “What is it?”
“It’s a letter from them,” Bobbie said as she passed it over.
We wanted to thank you for not being difficult while we visited your store. We have to say that we are great fans of your style, but given our unique occupation it makes us difficult to visit during normal opening hours. Hence our out of hours visit.
We also wish to offer you our apologies for the fact that you will not be rewarded with payment for your exquisite craftsmanship and your losses. On the other hand, you may consider yourselves fortunate to have only been bound and gagged. Other teams of our acquaintance could have been far more brutal.
We wish you every success in your future trading.
The China Doll Gang.
Annie passed the note to Tracy, who stared at it dumbfounded.
“Should we be flattered by their attention, or terrified they might come back?”
Annie shrugged her shoulders. “I have no idea. Tracy, please call the police – we’ll need to report this. Bobbie – could you put the kettle on please? I think we could all use a nice cup of tea right now.”