Polly looked at the address card in her hand, and then checked against the door numbers until she found the entrance to Meier Jewellery. Feeling nervous, she rang at the doorbell and a female voice answered.
“ Meier Jewellery, how may I help you?”
“My name is Polly Winters – I’ve been sent to you for my A-level work placement?”
“Ah yes – come up to the first floor.”
An electronic buzzer sounded, and Polly climbed a staircase to a glass-fronted door with the company name engraved on it. Entering, she was met by a grey-haired receptionist who eyed up the young student.
“So you’re our Art placement student are you? My name is Mrs Danvers, and I man the front desk. I’m glad to see you came suitably attired for this job.”
Polly stood there with her hands clasped in front of her. The college had warned her that normal student clothes would not be the best choice, so she was wearing a light blue jacket and skirt, with a blue silk blouse and short heeled open-toed shoes. Mrs Danvers was wearing a high collared white blouse and grey skirt, and as she walked round to meet Polly the click of her black leather shoes on the floor was unmistakeable.
“Welcome to Meier – Come with me and I’ll introduce you to Mrs Meier.”
Mrs Danvers led Polly through to an office at the back of the room, and knocked on the door.
“Mrs Meier? Ms Winters has arrived.”
“Ah good – come in won’t you?” Mrs Annette Meier was wearing a red rose printed cotton dress, with a red scarf around her neck and red leather shoes.
“So Polly, you want to learn about the jewellery business?”
“Yes I do – design is what I want to work in when I leave school.”
“Well, the next couple of weeks will give you a taste for what our work is like – so why don’t we get started?”
Over the course of the morning, Polly started to settle into her placement, until by lunchtime she felt she could learn to like this line of work.
“Lunchtime – would you mind going to the deli on the corner and picking up some sandwiches?” Mrs Danvers asked Polly.
Nodding, she asked what to pick up, and then left closing the door behind her. Walking down the street, she didn’t notice the light grey van that pulled up outside the office door.
Twenty minutes later, Polly rang on the bell and the door was opened without any reply. Shrugging her shoulders and putting that down to Mrs Danvers knowing her now, she made her way back up to the office and entered.
No-one was manning the front desk.
“Mrs Danvers? I have your lunch here – shall I leave it on your desk?”
Making her way round to the open area she had been working in, Polly was wondering what was going on when she heard a slight scuffle behind her. Turning round, she was confronted by a female, slightly taller than her, standing right in front of her. This woman was dressed in a grey bodysuit, shoes and gloves, with the hood of her bodysuit pulled up over her head and fitting closely. Where her face should have been visible, there was a white featureless mask, and the woman had one finger to her lips.
“What th…” Polly began to say, as she suddenly felt a long length of rope being draped around her shoulders from behind. The rope was then wound quickly around her arms, pulling them behind her back until she felt her wrists being tied together. The rope was then wound around her upper body, so that within five minutes her arms were secured tightly against her chest.
“Oh my god, what are youfmmmmm”. As Polly began to shout out, a knotted scarf was pushed into her mouth, and the ends pulled tightly behind her head at the base of her neck. She was spun round to be confronted by another woman clad all in grey.
The two masked women looked at each other, and then the bound and gagged young girl was pushed towards the kitchen.
There Polly saw Mrs Danvers, her arms bound as Polly’s were and also gagged, sat on the floor. Her ankles and legs were bound with rope, and Polly was sat down next to her.
Polly noticed for the first time a third grey-clad women standing watching them, but she seemed younger and smaller than the other two. Fixing her eyes on this younger robber, Polly only just registered the fact that her ankles were being bound together with rope, which was then passed up behind her thighs and used to tie her legs together above her knees.
The two older women looked at the younger one, and then left the room without saying a word. She in turn looked at the two bound women, holding a gun on her lap and silently watching their every move.
In her office, Annette Meier was watching as yet another woman in grey was opening the safe which contained her most precious items. Mrs Danvers had allowed the intruders into the office, thinking it was Polly by the sound she had heard, and when a scuffle had broken out she had come into the main area to see her receptionist held by two of the gang, as a smaller one closed the doors and the final member approached her.
From their grab and the way they said nothing, she had guessed that this was the infamous China Doll Gang, and knew from that moment that nothing she did was going to stop them. She had watched as Mrs Danvers was bound with a single length of rope, and then taken off to the kitchen as she herself was led back into the office.
Now she was sat in her chair, her wrists bound behind her back and her chest and waist secured by that single length to the chair itself. The final gang member had opened the safe as Annette read out the combination, and was busily emptying the contents into a bag. Through the open office door, she could see other members of the gang placing jewellery into sacks.
Polly was struggling against the ropes, when the young masked woman stood up, walked over and firmly put her hand on her shoulder. Mrs Danvers looked on, and tried to reassure the young girl that it was all right.
“Clm dwn, plly – tl be l rght”
The masked girl sat back down, and Polly tried to keep herself calm.
“Are you quite finished?” Annette asked as the masked Doll tied her bound ankles with a length of rope to the back of her chair.
Silently, the Doll stood up and removed Annette’s scarf from her neck. Shaking it out, she rolled it into a tight band and tied a knot in the middle. Standing behind the bound woman, she placed the knot against her lips and Annette opened her mouth to allow the gag to go in.
The Doll then produced a second scarf, folded it into a band and tied it over the first gag, securing it at the base of her neck. She then pulled the telephone out of the socket, picked up her bag and walked out.
In the kitchen, Polly and the receptionist were also shocked to have a second gag tied over the first one by the young masked woman. Polly was then rolled over onto the floor, her ankles brought up behind her and secured to her wrists by a further length of rope. Mrs Danvers had her wrists attached to her ankles with a length of rope, but less tightly and without placing her on her stomach.
The two older Dolls came in, inspected the new gags and bindings, and then left with the younger member following. Polly listened as the office door was closed behind her, and silence fell over the office.
The office clock struck the hour, and Polly started to try and loosen the bonds that held her tightly and helplessly on the floor. She wriggled around, and tried to roll over, but to no avail.
“ms dnvrs – cn u hlp m pls?”
The older woman was sat quite still, looking ahead as if she was in a trance.
“PLS MS DNVRS – HLP M!!”
Snapping out of her thoughts, the receptionist did a surprising thing. Slowly and carefully, she moved herself across the floor on her bottom to where Polly had ended up, and indicated with her head that the young girl should try and get her head towards her own hands.
Polly slid over, and after a few minutes Mrs Danvers succeeded in pulling the first scarf down around her neck, then the knotted scarf out of the terrified girl’s mouth. Having achieved that, she then let herself fall onto her side
“Tr t gt ts ut f m mth s wl?” she mumbled, and Polly asked “Do you want me to try and get your gag out?”
Mrs Danvers nodded, and as Polly rolled over the receptionist moved so that her mouth was within reach of the young girl’s fingers.
The clock struck the hour again before Polly finally pulled the band out of the older woman’s mouth.
“Ah – that’s better. I’m sorry, Polly, I had no way of warning you there was a robbery under way. An occupational hazard for us, but you shouldn’t have been involved.”
“Thanks – but who were they?”
“They’re called the China Doll Gang – they never say a word, and always get what they want. The strange thing is, there were four of them, and every report I’ve seen said they had three members.
Listen, if you roll onto your stomach, I’ll see if I can’t at least use my teeth to undo this hogtie. Hold still now….”
In her office, Annette could hear that her fellow workers were at least able to talk. Using her body weight, she managed to push her chair over to a table at the side, where a letter opener was hidden under a pile of letters. Groping with her fingers, she finally located the long, thin, sharp object and started trying to loosen the ropes around her waist with it.
Darkness was starting to settle across the room when Polly was finally able to stretch her legs out.
“Listen,” Mrs Danvers gasped, “Under the table of my desk is a red button. Can you make your way out to the desk and kick it with your feet – that will sound an alarm and the police will come.”
Nodding, Polly managed to sit herself up and move on her bottom into the main office area. Moving across the floor, she saw Mrs Meier through her open office door trying to loosen the ropes that held her into the chair.
Annette, in turn, could see Polly and tried to shout out some encouragement to her, as she made her way slowly across the floor. Reaching the desk, Polly looked under and saw the button Mrs Danvers had talked about. Lying down on her back, she reached up with her bound ankles and thumped the button with her toes, then lay on her side as she saw Mrs Meier visibly relax in her chair.
Within thirty minutes, police and ambulance crew had arrived to free and tend to the three captives.
“Polly,” Annette said to the young girl as they sat waiting for their statements to be taken, “I hope what happened today hasn’t put you off our business. This is a rare occurrence, but when it does happen we do as they ask and try to catch up later.”
Polly shook her head. “No, it hasn’t put me off, but I wonder who those women were.”
“No-one knows – they’ve never been caught. I still wonder why there were four of them though….”
In a non-descript detached house, three women were counting and assessing the proceeds of their days work.
From the kitchen, a young woman of about 17 brought through a tray with a pot of coffee, cups and snacks on there. Placing it on the table, she took a seat and watched as the jewellery was placed in a locked box.
“So, what did you think of your first day with us?” one of the three asked the younger girl.
“It wasn’t quite what I expected, but thank you for allowing me to get some work experience with you. After that incident when we first met, I wasn’t sure you’d allow me to follow you?”
“Well, you didn’t report it to the police, and you were genuinely repentant when we met, so we decided to give you a chance. You did well watching the other two while we did our bit – you have the makings of fine robber, young lady.”
The girl blushed, and sat quietly.
“Anyway, come back tomorrow and we’ll give you some training in how to tie people up properly – without using tape.”
The young girl stood up, took her brown leather jacket from the chair, and putting it on she headed out of the door, leaving the gang to plan out her work experience for the weeks ahead.