When the front door bell rang, Annabelle looked over at her daughter and then their two visitors. After a few moments hesitation, the doorbell rang again and she slowly got to her feet. Looking over again at Dorothy, she made her way out of the room, and opened the door with the chain still on.
Looking through the gap made in the doorway, she saw standing there a grey-haired woman, dressed in a white jumper and a pair of grey flannel trousers and holding a brown parcel in her hands.
“Sorry to disturb you, Anna,” the woman said as she stood there with a smile. “I saw your curtains were closed, and wondered if you were in or not.”
“Oh, sorry, Dot and I were just looking over some old photos, and didn’t want the sunlight to get to them. What have you got there?”
“This was left with my assistant this morning – the postman must have brought it over while you were out. I thought I would just drop it in.”
Annabelle hesitated for a moment, before nodding and closing the door. Her neighbour stood there as she listened to the sound of the chain being removed, and then the door opened fully to allow Annabelle to take the parcel. As she took it, her neighbour looked at her and said, “Are you all right, dear? You look awfully pale.”
“Yes – just a lack of sleep the last couple of nights. Forgive me, Coco, but I do need to get back to the photos. I’ll talk to you later.”
The neighbour looked at her with her startling blue eyes, before smiling and saying, “Of course, Anna – I’ll talk to you later.” Annabelle smiled as Coco turned and walked back down the pathway, her body disappearing behind the tree cover as she closed the gate behind her. She placed the parcel on the floor, closed the door and quickly re-fastened the chain.
“Well?” she said as she turned and looked at the man standing behind the door. He was about six foot tall, dressed entirely in black including the balaclava mask over his head, and held a large knife in his hand as he smiled at her. In his free hand was the connecting wire for her main phone, swinging freely.
“Very well done, Annabelle. May I ask who that woman was?”
“That is Colette, my next door neighbour. She works from home as some sort of engineering consultant. Sometimes my mail is delivered to her house if I’m out. Why?”
“Curiosity, nothing more. Shall we return to the front room?”
Annabelle looked at the man, then the knife, before allowing him to take her arm and guide her back into the main room of her house. She looked again at Dorothy as she lay on the couch, while another man in black was passing a length of rope around her ankles as they rested on the arm.
“Problem, Mister Tall?” he said as he pulled the loose ends of the rope through the loop he had made in the centre of the length and brought Dorothy’s white sock clad ankles together.
“A neighbour delivering a parcel – tell me, Annabelle, which house does she live in?”
“The one to the left of here – why?”
“I could not help noticing the brooch she wore on her jumper – if you are agreeable, Mister Small, I think we should make a second visit tonight.”
“If you wish, Mister Tall. Forgive me, Dorothy, but this is necessary.”
The smaller man, about five foot four in height, folded back the hem of the young girl’s tweed school skirt, and passed a longer length of rope around her legs above her knees to bind them together. As he did this, Mister Tall sat Annabelle down in an armchair and guided her wrists behind her back.
The two women had returned home an hour previously, after Annabelle picked Dorothy up from her sixth form, and had come in to find the two intruders searching through the house. They had been polite and gentle towards them, but made their intentions very clear and insisted that they both do exactly what they told them. While the taller of the two men had taken Annabelle to open their safe, the smaller had stayed with Dorothy and tied her wrists together behind her back, before securing her arms to her sides with coils of rope above and below her bust. The ropes had pulled the white cotton of her long sleeved blouse tightly across her breasts, but she had to admit that the tight ropes were not too uncomfortable.
The intruder had treated her kindly, talking about music and films with her even as he was binding her, so she had lost the fear she had felt when he first confronted her with the gun in his hand. As a result, when his partner had returned with her mother and had asked her to put her hands behind her back just before the door bell rang, she did not try to struggle when the leather-gloved hand was placed over her mouth while Annabelle went to answer the door.
As Mister Small tied off the rope around her legs, and folded the hem of her skirt back down, Dorothy watched as Mister Tall quickly wrapped a coil of rope around her mother’s upper body, pulling her arms to her sides as he passed it round again and again, and then passed the rope behind her neck and under her arms to tighten the binding. Annabelle was wearing a brown roll neck silk sweater, with a Hermes scarf around her neck, a brown knee length skirt and knee length fabric boots. As she watched, fascinated, Mister Small walked over to a table on which their handbags had been placed. He searched through them, removing their mobile phones and taking the batteries out before placing them on the table top.
“You don’t have to do this to us, we won’t raise the alarm,” Annabelle said as Mister Tall took a length of white rope from a rucksack and knelt at her side. “I am afraid we must – delightful as your company is, we cannot take the risk of your raising the alarm for a while before we depart, especially as we are going to visit your neighbour.” As he was saying this, Mister Tall was passing the rope around and between her ankles, pulling them together as he did so and tying knot off at the rear of her legs. Taking a further length, he began to pull Annabelle’s legs together below her knees as Mister Small took a folded cloth and knelt next to Dorothy.
“Open wide,” he said, and as Dorothy opened her mouth he pushed the folded cloth between her lips. Removing her school tie from around her neck, he used it to pull the cloth further into her mouth, tying the two ends together at the base of her neck and helping her to move up the couch so the her head was resting on the other arm. She looked over to her mother as Mister Tall pushed a similar cloth into Annabelle’s mouth and fixed it in place with a thin scarf he had picked up while watching her answer the door.
“Finished, Mister Tall?” Mister Small checked the knots on the ropes around Annabelle as Mister Tall returned the favour on her daughter.
“Actually, Mister Small,” he said as he looked up, “I think we may need to take some further precautions if we are going to visit the neighbour. After all, it would not be sensible to allow these charming ladies to free each other, would it?”
Dorothy looked at her mother, who returned the worried expression as the two gentlemen looked at them. “I agree, Mister Tall, we definitely need to take further precautions. Do you have any thoughts?”
“Forgive us, Ladies, but we need to make you both a little less comfortable. If you would help Dorothy over, Mister Small?” As he said this, Mister Tall placed his arms under Annabelle’s and helped her to her feet, allowing her to hop into the centre of the room and helping her to sit down. Mister Small helped Dorothy to roll over and get on her feet, moving her so that as she sat down she was behind her mother.
The two women sat still as Mister Tall took a length of washing line from his bag. He unravelled it and used it to bind them together, back to back, passing the rope around their waists and chests and over their shoulders. He threaded the last few feet between their bodies to gather the loops of rope together and pull them tight. As he drew them together, Dorothy gasped as she felt her mother’s arms and back press against hers. Annabelle felt behind her and gently squeezed her daughter’s hand to reassure her.
“There now,” Mister Tall said as he stood up. “I know this probably need not be said, but it would be most unfortunate for us if the alarm was raised before we finished our business with your neighbour. Just sit still, relax, and time will soon pass. Ready, Mister Small?”
The smaller man picked up their rucksacks. “Ready, Mister Tall.”
“Well, ladies, it has been a pleasure spending time with you today,” Mister Tall said as his partner collected their rucksacks, “but we must go and say hello to your neighbour now. The Gentlemen Robbers bid you adieu – may we never meet again!”
Closing the door on the two women as they looked on, Mister Tall and Mister Small removed their balaclavas, rolled the edges up and placed them on their heads like normal woollen hats. Mister Small cautiously opened the door, looked out into the twilight and nodded to his partner before they stepped out and closed the front door behind them.
“So,” the smaller of the two men said as they opened the front gate, “what does this mysterious women look like?”
“Small – smaller than you – and, if you will forgive the expression, rather fat. I do not believe she will pose too much of a problem for us, and it is a nice night.”
“Very true, but we have no easy way of getting in, or finding the back entrance. What do you propose?”
“The direct approach – follow me,” Mister Tall said as he turned left and walked past the high hedge to the next house.
Sitting at a table in her back room, Coco was surprised to hear the doorbell ring. Placing the items she was working on back into a velvet-lined case, she quickly closed the box and put it in her safe. She swung the bank of shelves which hid the safe back into place, hearing the sharp click as it latched closed. She hesitated for a moment before deciding that it wouldn’t be necessary to deadlock everything as she wasn’t planning to leave the house. She removed her gloves and tossed them into the bin. Turning the light off, she closed the door and walked quickly to the front of the house, calling out, “Just a minute,” as she checked her grey hair in the mirror and adjusted her glasses. Looking through the peep hole in her door, she saw two men in black leather jackets standing there, their backs to the door.
Intrigued, Coco opened the door and asked in a pleasant voice, “Can I help you?”
“I believe you can,” the taller of the two men said as they turned round. The first thing Coco noticed about them was their disparity in height, the second was the black balaclava masks that covered their faces, while the third was the strength of grip of the smaller man as he took her by the arm and pushed her back into the house.
As Mister Tall closed the front door, he turned and looked at the woman. “A most unusual event, Mister Small,” he said with a smile. “It is not often that both of us are taller than the lady or ladies we are visiting.”
Mister Small looked at the grey haired woman as she stood against the wall. She was indeed a couple of inches smaller than him, with short grey hair cut into a bob. Although the jumper fitted her well, he could not help but notice that she was also a little…
“I believe the word you are looking for is ‘fat’,” Coco said, apparently reading his mind as she looked back at him, her periwinkle blue eyes fixed on his. “So, may I ask what the hell you two think you are doing?”
“My apologies, dear lady,” the taller of the two men said, smoothly, drawing a knife out of his jacket pocket as he spoke. “We were spending some time with your neighbour when you called round with the parcel, and I could not help but notice the brooch that you are currently wearing. It is a beautiful piece of work, and I suggested to my colleague that a visit to your house may prove most educational and profitable as well. They were not in a position to object, as I am sure you can understand, so it would behove you for your sake and theirs not to do anything stupid.”
Coco looked between the two men, in a way that almost looked as if she was appraising both of them, before saying, “I see – so this is a robbery, I take it? That would explain why Annabelle looked so pale when I saw her earlier. Well then, may I ask your intentions towards me?”
“All in good time. First, however, would it be impolite to ask you your name?”
“My name? My name is Colette Aldington. May I ask yours?”
“It will suffice to call me Mister Tall, and the gentlemen who really should loosen his grip on your arm answers to Mister Small. Now, Colette, do I have your word that you will not try to raise the alarm, or call out for help?”
As Mister Small looked on, he could have sworn he saw a smile pass over the smaller woman’s face, but when he looked again her expression had returned to one of concern. “Do I have a choice in the matter?” she said as she looked between the two men.
“Not really, no. Mister Small, if you would disconnect the telephone, I will take Colette into her main room and have a word with her.”
“Of course,” the smaller man said as he went to the opposite wall, while the taller man took Coco by the arm and led her into the room. “If you would be so kind as to close the curtains and turn on the light?” he said as he closed the door behind them and stood in the dimly lit room.
Coco walked slowly over to the window and drew the heavy velvet curtains closed, before turning on a large standard lamp and seating herself in an armchair that was next to the lamp. Mister Tall took a seat on a couch next to her, placing his knife on a coffee table as he did so in full view of her. He smiled as he looked over at her.
“Firstly, may I trouble you to hand me the brooch,” he said as he held out a gloved hand. Coco stared back for a moment, before undoing the clasp and handing it over to him. He held it up to the light from the lamp and watched as the red jewels glistened.
“Exquisite – beautifully set rubies and the metalwork on the gold surround is magnificent. Would you not agree, Mister Small?”
Coco looked up as the smaller man came into the room, took the jewel from his partner and held it up. She could see him examining it carefully, before looking over at her and saying “Beautiful – and of considerable value if these really are rubies. Perhaps you would care to tell us?”
“A piece of costume jewellery – nothing more. The metal is silver gilt and the stones are just garnets.”
Mister Small looked over at Coco as she sat there, her face a mask showing only the fear he had seen in other people they had called on. Shrugging, he placed the brooch in his pocket and looked at Mister Tall.
“Well, Colette,” he said, “As you have perceived we are indeed here to rob you. It would be much easier for us, and for you, if you were to tell us where your safe is or where your valuables are. Be assured we will find them, but it will be over so much more quickly if you co-operate with us.”
“Once again, do I have a choice in the matter?” As she said this, Coco sat up and placed her hands together in her lap.
“Once again, no, not really – so will you tell us,” Mister Tall said with a smile.
“Well, it’s just jewellery – there’s a collection in my dresser in my bedroom, and my safe is in this room here.”
“Thank you, Colette. Mister Small, if you would look upstairs, then I will stay with Colette and take care of things down here.”
“As you wish, Mister Tall,” the smaller man said as he walked out of the room. Coco watched through the doorway as he climbed the staircase, before turning her attention to the man still in the room with her.
“Now, Colette,” Mister Tall said as he took a length of cord from his jacket pocket, “I need to make sure you cannot interfere while I open your safe. Please, place your hands behind your back.”
Without saying a word, Coco did as she had been told. Mister Tall hesitated. Had there been just the hint of a smile there? He examined Coco’s face carefully, but could only see a small woman clearly terrified but trying to control her fear. Nevertheless, there remained that faint worry that there was something going on that he was missing. He shook his head and bent to his task, wrapping the cord around Coco’s wrists, pulling the loose ends through the loop he had made in the middle and forcing them to come together as the rope went around the cuffs of her jumper. He passed the cord around several more times, and then between her wrists, finally knotting it securely.
Mister Tall still had the troubling feeling that he wasn’t entirely in control of the situation. He decided that it would be in order to make his victim a little more secure. He wrapped a coil of rope around her arms and body, so that it passed below her ample bust and pulled her elbows tight against her ribs. Another coil of rope held her bound wrists against the small of her back.
“There now,” Mister Tall said as he stood up straight, “That should keep you out of mischief. I trust that is not too uncomfortable?”
“I’ll cope,” Coco said as she shuffled herself back on the chair so that she was leaning against her arms. As she was doing that, Mister Tall knelt down and secured her ankles together; passing the cord around the bottom of her trousers and making sure it went between her legs as well. He tied her legs just above the knees in the same way.
“Now, I will of course gag you before we leave, but I find it more civilised if we can talk while I work. Again, do you promise not to call out?”
“Very civilised,” Coco commented with heavy irony. “However – I promise. I just want this to be over with,” she added as Mister Tall stood up.
“Excellent – so, where is your safe?”
Coco nodded to a large display cabinet at the side wall. “Open the centre door – you’ll find a small safe on there. The combination is…”
In the bedroom, Mister Small was examining the contents of the jewellery boxes he had uncovered and placing items in his bag. It had not been too difficult to find them – indeed, they were exactly where many women thought it was safe to hide them – and they were all very nice in their own way. None of them, however, seemed to be of the same quality as the brooch. They were all quite tasteful and would suit Colette but they were obviously mass-produced.
Mister Small took the brooch out of his pocket and examined it more closely. The fretwork in the metal was magnificent – a true piece of craftsmanship and far too finely done to be mass-produced like the pieces he had just been handling. The setting for the blood-red jewels was delicate but secure. Turning the brooch over, he looked for markings. If it really was silver gilt, which he was beginning to doubt, there would be no hallmark. He could not immediately see a hallmark but found a maker’s mark. He squinted at it before realising that it was indeed a hallmark, but not a British one. There was a lion’s head, the number 750 and the letters VE. 750 indicated 750 parts per thousand purity, 18 carat gold in other words, and VE was Venezia, the Italian city of Venice.
“Venice?” he said to himself. “This is genuine Venetian goldwork and quite heavy – so why would there be garnets in it?” He would be able to tell rubies from garnets in a moment by using a polarimeter to examine the stones, but that wasn’t the sort of equipment to carry on a job. Placing the jewel back in his pocket, he resolved to question Colette rather more closely about the piece when he returned to the main room.
“Interesting – what do we have here?”
Coco watched as Mister Tall took a small metal box out of the safe and placed it on the dining table next to the cabinet. A fat bundle of banknotes was already on there, as was a document wallet.
“Oh God,” Coco said with a whisper, “Please, that’s my coin collection. For God’s sake, leave that alone – it was an heirloom from my late father, and I can’t bear to lose it!”
“Regrettable, but I am after all a robber,” Mister Tall said as he took a seat and looked at the box. “How do you open it?”
“No, take anything else but leave that,” Coco replied with a raised voice, which made Mister Tall look up at her.
“I believe, Colette, you promised you would not scream. It would be regrettable, but if necessary I will silence you if you continue.”
The door opened and Mister Small walked in, placing his bag on the table alongside the case.
“Are we having some trouble, Mister Tall?”
“I do not believe so, Mister Small. Is that not right, Colette?”
Coco lowered her head and whispered, “No.”
“Thank you,” Mister Tall said as he turned to his companion. “Mister Small, perhaps you could check the remaining rooms downstairs while I look at this coin collection Colette seems to be so desperate to protect.”
Mister Small nodded as he left the room, closing the door behind him. “Now, Colette,” Mister Tall continued, “The box?”
“Turn the clasp at the front to the left and press to release it,” Coco said in a resigned tone, and she watched as the tall masked man slowly turned the clasp to the left, pressed in and lifted the lid of the box up. He stared at it for a moment as the spray of fine powder hit him in the face. He turned to look at the captive woman in her armchair, now certain that there was some kind of deception going on. He registered that her face was a blank, but it was the last thing he saw as his head fell down and landed in the cushioned interior of the case, a fine cloud of dust rising as it hit.
The concerned, frightened look left Coco’s face in an instant. She brought her hands out from behind her back having worked them free of their binding some minutes earlier and began to loosen the knot securing the ropes around her chest. She kept one eye on the tall unconscious man as she worked at freeing herself, leaving the ropes on the floor as she stood up and walked over. Coco smiled as she looked down at the sleeping man. “With the amount he just breathed in, I have some extra time,” she said to herself as she looked for something in the safe.
Mister Small looked round the back room, wondering if there was indeed anything to find here. The room appeared to be used as a library, with well-stocked bookshelves around the walls, and a table and chair set up in the middle. A stereo unit was sitting on top of one of the bookcases, switched off at the moment.
Looking at the books, Mister Small could see many were technical volumes, evidently the tools of the trade for an engineer. There were textbooks on the properties of metals, others on building and road construction, electronics manuals and books on the history of various aspects of engineering. There were even a few more general books, but still with an engineering bias to them. One in particular on the canals of Venice caught his eye. It was in Italian, but I Canali di Venezia was not a difficult title to translate.
“That must be a memento of the same trip when she bought the brooch,” he muttered to himself as he looked further along the shelves.
Prominently displayed on the shelves was the full 32-volume edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Too nice to throw out,” Mister Small said to himself, recognising the obsolescence of a printed encyclopaedia in the age of the internet. Sure enough, there was a film of dust on top of the volumes.
Realising he had spotted something strange, Mister Small looked more closely at the encyclopaedia. There was indeed a film of dust on top of every volume except for one. Volume 3 (Ceara to Deluc) had a clean patch on top of the pages and the upper edge of the spine was quite shiny. His curiosity piqued, he slid the volume off the shelf. As he did so, he heard a tiny click. He reached into the gap but could feel nothing but the shelf and the back panel of the bookcase. He slid the book back into its place. There was no click that time, so he slid it out again. Click. Puzzled, he slid the volume in and out a few times. There was a tiny click each time and, quite suddenly, he realised that the whole section of bookcase was now free to move. It was pivoted at one end and swung out on perfectly smooth, silent hinges which had been completely invisible before.
With the bookshelves swung out of the way, two doors were revealed in the wall behind it. One was a plain wooden door with a recessed handle; the other was a grey steel door with an LCD display above a numeric keypad. “Oh my dear Collette, what have we got here?” Mister Small muttered. He thought for a moment of calling for Mister Tall, but then figured that their host might try to cause trouble if she knew that her secret had been discovered.
Mister Small tried the wooden door first. It was not locked and opened to reveal a surprisingly deep cupboard. Various small items were packed in a stack of plastic storage boxes, but the item that grabbed Mister Small’s attention was a black latex catsuit on a hanger.
“Kinky!” he said to himself. “Who would have thought that the demure and proper Colette Aldington would own something like that?”
Still chuckling at his discovery, Mister Small turned his attention to the safe. He took a small silver box, no bigger than a cigarette packet, from his pocket and placed it against the metal door. Pressing a small button, he watched as the flashing display on the case slowed down and showed a number sequence. Punching the sequence into the keypad, Mister Small watched as the door swung open noiselessly.
The safe was deep, and inside he could see a number of cases and bags. At the front was another small silver box, much like the one he had just used. He picked it up and examined it carefully. As he did so, his lips moved from a smile to a frown.
“Hang on – I recognise this,” he said to himself as he stood up. “I loaned this to… Oh sweet Mary Mother of Heaven, surely not. It can’t be…”
Turning round, and fully intending to go to Mister Tall and tell him to stop, he was greeted instead by the sight of Coco standing there, a smile on her face but her eyes flashing as if they were made of cold blue steel.
“Surprise!” she said as she stepped forward surprisingly nimbly for someone of her build and reached forward with a small black plastic cylinder in her outstretched hand. She pushed it against Mister Small’s collarbone, just above the lapels of his leather jacket. He felt the scratch of something sharp through the fabric of his sweater then the pain of a high-voltage electric current surging through him. He collapsed to his knees then to the floor. Even after Coco had withdrawn the taser from contact with his skin he was unable to more than lie on the floor and twitch helplessly, looking up at Coco standing over him, a smile still on her face.
Bending down to kneel beside him, Coco pressed a finger to the side of Mister Small’s neck to check his pulse. Satisfied that it was regular and that he was in no danger, she rolled him over and secured his wrists behind his back with a plastic zip tie. Leaving him on the floor, she walked out of the room for a few minutes before returning, her hands under Mister Tall’s arms as she dragged him into the room and left him next to his partner. His wrists were also secured behind his back with a zip tie.
Placing the silver box back into the safe and closing it, she looked down on the two men, one still deeply unconscious, the other showing signs of recovering from the electric shock. She shook her head and smiled in apparent amusement.
“I’d better clear the living room up before I have some more visitors,” she said to herself as she closed the door on them and returned to the front room. Collecting some cloths from the kitchen, she returned to the main room and replaced the case in the safe, closing the door and carefully wiping down the table to remove any residue from the anaesthetic powder that had been released. As each cloth was used, she put it in a clear plastic bag, into which she also placed the ropes from her chair before sealing it. Checking that everything was where it should be, she took the bag into the kitchen and placed it in a recycling bin before heading for the front door.
The sun had already set as Coco quickly walked round to the front door of her neighbour’s house, and rang the doorbell. Listening at the door, she tried turning the handle, but the door was firmly locked. Looking round, she reached under a plant pot at the side of the door and retrieved a spare key, mumbling to herself, “No matter how often the police say not to do it…” as she unlocked the door and let herself in.
“Anna,” she called out, “I saw your visitors leaving a while back, but you didn’t answer your phone, so I thought I’d pop round. Where are you?” She could hear muffled calls from the front room, and smiled as she slowly opened the door and looked in.
“My God!” she exclaimed as she ran to where Anna and Dot were sitting, trying to call out. “What happened?” She reached up and pulled the scarf out of Anna’s mouth, taking the folded cloth out as she did so.
“Coco, are you all right? They said they were coming to you next…”
“Anna, whoever they were, they didn’t come near me – they must have changed their minds. Look, I’ll get this rope off you that’s holding you two together and untie your hands. If I go and call the police after that, will you be able to take it from there?”
Anna agreed to Coco’s suggestion and Dot, who was still gagged, nodded her assent. Coco untied the rope binding the two women together then the rope securing Anna’s wrists. She glanced back from the doorway as Anna started to free her daughter. Returning to her own house, she called the police and returned to the front room, silently thankful they had told her not to go back into her neighbour’s house.
“Well now, what did you take from Annabelle and her daughter,” she said to herself as she picked up her visitors’ bags and took them to the bedroom, listening to the sound of car doors opening and closing outside as she did so.
“Oh my head.”
Mister Tall slowly opened his eyes and looked round the room. As his vision gradually came into focus, he realised he was in some sort of workroom, with a table and chair and bookcases against the wall. He felt slightly nauseous, and wondered why his wrists were behind is back.
“Zip ties,” he heard Mister Small say, and rolling over he saw him sitting with his back against the wall and minus his balaclava. “She used zip ties to secure our wrists – with any luck she’ll be back in a minute once she has finished talking to the police.”
Forcing himself to sit up, Mister Tall looked over his shoulder at his wrists, and then over to his partner. “The police – don’t tell me a short, fat women with grey hair in her mid-fifties got the better of both of us and called the police? We’ll never live this down. Never!”
“Well, she certainly got the better of us, but she didn’t call the police on her own account. From what little I overheard, I think she has only mentioned our visit next door and not our business here. However, as she called round with the parcel while we were on the premises, she will have to give some sort of statement to the police. Listen – I think she's just about done with them…”
Both men listened to Coco’s voice saying, “Of course, Officer – if I can be of any further assistance, don’t hesitate to call on me.” The front door could be heard opening and closing, before footsteps went from the front to the rear of the house. There was silence for a moment, before the door opened and Coco entered, carrying two bottles of beer and a pair of scissors.
“Ah good – you’re awake. Your friend and I were having a chat before the police rang the doorbell. My compliments to you on the way you prevented Annabelle and Dorothy from raising the alarm for so long. Very neat and efficient but not unnecessarily cruel.”
Mister Tall looked at the short, plump woman as she sat down at the table and took something from an envelope that was lying there. “Who are you?” he said as she stood back up and went behind Mister Tall to cut the plastic strip.
“My card,” Coco said as she handed Mister Tall a piece of cardboard. As he looked down, he saw a silhouette drawing of a smiling woman, wearing an eye mask and smiling, drawn in chocolate brown.
“Mister Tall,” Mister Small said as he rubbed his own wrists, “I have the honour of introducing you to La Cioccolata.”
Getting to his feet, Mister Tall looked from the card to his partner, to the smiling woman standing there, and then at the card, before bursting out laughing. “You have got to be kidding me,” he said, “This is…”
“How did you enjoy my sleeping powder?” Coco said, and Mister Tall looked back at her. “My God – hiding in plain sight.” He said in a low whisper before bowing to Coco. “My apologies, dear lady, but we had no way of knowing. Mister Small, how did you…”
In reply, Mister Small held up the brooch. “It’s Venetian and it’s real – I found a hallmark while I was upstairs – but when I discovered her hidden safe, and saw something I had loaned John a few months ago, I suddenly realised who this person was. I was too late to tell you – and I have the burn marks from her taser to prove I was too late for myself as well.”
“Don’t worry,” Coco said as she pointed to their bags in a corner of the room. “I won’t keep you from your earned gains – I’ve just taken back what was mine, especially the Foscari brooch you were so keen on having.”
Mister Tall nodded, before looking back at her. “The Foscari brooch? That’s the Foscari brooch? Then… Is that where you got your name?”
Coco looked at the tall man with a expression of interest. “You’ve heard of the case?”
“I spent some time working in Italy as a younger man, and had the pleasure of meeting Maria Foscari. I never dreamed I would ever meet the person who pulled that one off.”
“A tale worth telling, I assure you,” Coco said as she opened the beer bottles. “You’ll need to wait a while until the police have finished next door and I need a stiff gin, so bring the beer with you and let’s go back into the front room. I’ll tell you all about it, and in return you can tell me some stories about John.”