It was a late January evening, and the rush hour traffic was its usual crawl, especially on the Piccadilly line. Anna was standing, pressed against the door and wishing there were far few people in there.
It wasn’t as if she wasn’t used to it – but given her recent conversion to Islam, she now found it disturbing that people had so little respect for her. She was wearing the hijab after all – the black scarf wrapped round her head and neck. The black jacket was over a white round necked top, while she was also wearing a wrap round skirt made from grey wool with a black trim.
Her legs were warmly enclosed in a pair of black leather boots, with a metal studded band around the top of the leg. But it was the way people kept shoving and pushing into her that was really bothering her – so as the train pulled into Sudbury Hill station, she breathed a sigh of relief and got out, climbing the staircase and emerging from the concourse onto the Greenford road.
She made her way across the road and down into the housing estates, eventually turning the corner into her own street. As she approached her house, she noticed the grey transit van parked on the road, but thought nothing more of it as she walked up to her front door and let herself in.
“Is anyone home,” she called out, but there was silence.
“Erin? Are you in...”
As she walked into the front room of her house, she suddenly realised she had seen the curtains drawn over the windows of the main room, and now she could see why. Her eighteen year old daughter Erin was sitting on the couch, her wrists secured behind her back and a scarf tied round her head, the knot tied in the middle sitting between her lips.
“Hello Anna,” the gentleman standing behind her daughter said, “I apologise for the intrusion, and for the fact Erin was not in a position to greet you, but my colleague and I have some business with you – business we need to conduct discretely.”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Anna said as she looked at the man. He stood an inch taller than her – maybe about five six – and wore a black leather jacket over a roll necked sweater and dark jeans. He had a pair of dark coloured shoes on, and leather gloves on his hands, as well as a balaclava pulled down over his head, showing only his eyes and mouth. “Will you tell me?”
“In due course,” a second voice said, as Anna turned to see a second man standing in the doorway. He looked identical to the first man, save for the fact he stood a full foot taller. “Mister Small, would you be so kind as to escort young Erin here to her bedroom, and make sure she is comfortable?”
“Of course, Mister Tall,” the first man said as she helped Erin to stand. The young girl was wearing a blue blouse over a white jumper, black slacks and heels.
“Please – don’t hurt her,” Anna said as she looked at the bands of rope holding Erin’s arms to her side.
“Be assured, so long as she remains calm and still, she will come to no harm,” the man she had heard referred to as Mister Tall said as her daughter was taken to the staircase. “Now, Anna, allow me to formally introduce myself. As you heard, I am Mister Tall, and my friend is Mister Small. We are known colloquially as...”
“The Gentlemen Robbers,” Anna said quietly. “I’ve read about you in the papers – but why are you here? We have nothing of value...”
“Ah, now at the moment that is indeed true,” Mister Tall said with a smile, “but we happen to know you will have a visitor later, and that visitor is bringing something for you to see.”
“That is true – I am still having lessons in Islam, and my teacher is coming round, but what would she have that would interest you?”
“All in good time,” Mister Tall said as he motioned towards a chair. “For the moment, I must make sure you are unable to let your mentor know we are here. Please, take a seat and make yourself comfortable.”
“May I take my jacket off?”
“No – as you have no doubt surmised, it will be necessary for us to secure you, and I would ask you to preserve as much of your modesty as you possibly can.”
“I see your reputation is deserved,” Anna said as she sat herself down, and placed her handbag on the floor, “so what do you wish me to do?” She watched as Mister Tall lifted a rucksack from the floor, and removed a length of cord from the top, before she said “so do you wish me to put my hands behind my back as well?”
“If you would be so kind?” He watched as she turned and moved her hands behind, and then knelt behind her, crossing her wrists before he doubled the rope over and swiftly secured her wrists to each other, taking the rope around and between her arms.
“If you must rob us,” Anna said as the rope was pulled tighter, “then do so, but I ask only you leave us unharmed.”
“My dear lady, if you have indeed heard of us, you will know we take every step to avoid unnecessary discomfort and embarrassment,” Mister Tall said as he took a longer length of rope, and passed it around Anna’s body, pulling her arms into her sides as he passed it above and below her chest.
“Indeed – I can see that now,” she said as the ropes were secured behind her back. Mister Tall then took more rope and knelt in front of her, crossing her ankles before the rope was used to secure them tightly together as well. She heard the squeak of the ropes as they rubbed on the leather, but as the rope tightened she knew she was going nowhere.
“Forgive me,” Mister Tall said, “but it is necessary for me to fold your skirt back. It will only be for a few moments.”
As she nodded, he folded her skirt back and then used more rope to secure her legs together below her knees, taking the rope between her legs again to cinch the binding, before he folded the skirt back.
“There – I trust that is not too uncomfortable?”
“No – and Erin?”
Mister Small passed the rope between the young girl’s ankles and then pulled them down before he secured the loose ends to the bottom of her bed. Erin looked up and watched, the ropes around her ankles and below her knees holding her legs together as she tried to wriggle round.
“Now then,” Mister Small said with a smile, “remain calm, your mother will be secured downstairs, and after we have concluded our business we will make sure someone eventually is alerted to your situation. Do you understand?”
Erin nodded slowly as he noticed the growing damp stain in the scarf acting as her gag. “Good – now tell me where you keep your jewels?”
Erin indicated her chest of drawers, watching as the masked man began to look in the cases.
“So what does my tutor have hat is so important to you?”
“Oh, all in good time,” Mister Tall said as he sat looking at her, “I am sure she will be more than glad to help our enquiries. May I ask a personal question?”
Anna looked at the masked man in surprise, and said “what?”
“Why did you accept the Islamic faith? You are not of the same ethnic origin as many of the followers.”
“Well, since you asked,” Anna said as she wriggled round, “I got interested when a friend invited me to a talk. The more I looked into it, the more I realised what they were saying spoke to me, so – I accepted their teaching, and in turn they accepted me. Is that a problem for you?”
“No – not at all,” Mister Tall said, “I was merely curious. After all, it must have been a difficult decision for your friends and family to accept.”
“Their problem – not mine,” Anna said as they both heard the knock on the front door. Mister Tall moved behind Anan and placed his gloved hand over her mouth as Mister Small walked down the staircase, and towards the front of the house.
“Good evening,” Anna heard him say as the door was opened, “please, come in without a fuss, and raise your hands.” She could hear the footsteps and then the door closing, before the masked man appeared in the doorway with her visitor.
The woman was wearing a black dress with mid-length sleeves over a crimson sweater, and had a double string of small pearls around her neck. A formal scarf in the same shade as her sweater was wrapped over her head and round her neck, while she was also wearing a pair of knee length black boots with a white trim.
“Good evening dear lady,” Mister Tall said as Anna saw the gun in Mister Small’s hand, “please, keep your hands raised and come in to join us.”
“What is the meaning of this,” she said as she looked at Mister Tall, and then at Anna. “Are you all right? IS your daughter all right?”
Anna slowly nodded and said nothing as Mister Small took the large bag her visitor was carrying and laid it to one side. He then reached into the rucksack, and took out a length of rope, before he guided her visitor’s hands behind her back.
“Oh where are my manners,” Mister Tall said as he took his hand away. “My apologies Anna – I kept you quiet longer than necessary.”
“Fatima,” she finally said, “I came home tonight to find them waiting, and Erin already bound and gagged. I have no idea why they are – only that they have been waiting for you.”
“I see,” Fatima said as she felt the rope tighten around her wrists, holding them firmly together, “and may I know the names of the two gentlemen that are putting us to such an inconvenience?”
“I am Mister Tall, my friend Mister Small – be assured, do as we say, and there will be no harm done beyond the mild inconvenience of being unable to move or speak for a while.”
Fatima nodded as she watched the rope going around her arms and body below her chest, and then pulled tighter, several bands appearing above and below before they were tied off.
“My apologies for this,” Mister Small said as he then fed some rope under the lower bend on the left side, pulling it up and back as he took it around Fatima’s neck and then under the other arm.
“Please,” Mister Tall said, “have a seat on the long couch there.”
As she sat down, Mister Small took two more lengths of rope, and then crossed Fatima’s ankles, securing them tightly together with one length before using the second length to secure her legs below her knees.
“If you will do the honours,” Mister Tall said, all three watching as Mister Small opened Fatima’s handbag and carefully emptied the contents out. As he removed a black velvet case, Fatima said “how did you...”
“We have been observing for some time, and your home security is a little bit too much for us. Having said which, we noted you had taken it for cleaning, and we deduced you would call here after collecting it. As I say, we have been observing for some time. Mister Small?”
“It is the piece,” he said as he placed it in the rucksack, and then walked over, removing the pearls from around Fatima’s neck as well as her rings and then putting them in the rucksack as well.
“Have you managed to retrieve any other items, Mister Small?”
“A few – I shall go and fetch them as you make the final preparations here.”
As he left the room, Mister Tall said “Now, with deep regret, it is time for you both to be quiet. Remain calm, and breathe normally.”
“Must you?” Anna said as she watched him take a sponge ball and compress it in his gloved hand.
“We must – open your mouth please.”
Anna nodded as she allowed him to push the ball into her mouth, feeling it expand and fill her mouth as she closed her lips over it. Mister Tall then used a second sponge on Fatima, before he produced a wide roll of white medical tape and tore a long strip off.
“We know your daughter has an allergy to this tape,” Mister Tall said as he pressed the strip firmly down over her lips and chin, “hence the different arrangements for her.”
She nodded as he tore a second strip off and taped over Fatima’s mouth, before helping her to lie on her side, her head resting on the arm of the couch. Both women watched as Mister Small returned and placed some more items in the rucksack, before picking it up.
“The Gentlemen Robbers bid you adieu ladies,” Mister Tall said quietly, “may we never meet again.”
Anna watched as the two men left, the front door opening and closing before Fatima started to struggle, trying to get free from the ropes. Anna sat still – they had promised someone would come, and they had not shown them any disrespect. She was content to wait.
“So, was it there?”
“Oh yes,” Mister Small said as they sat in the transit van, opening the velvet cloth to reveal the rubies and emeralds glistening in the large necklace.
“Excellent – well, out client will be very happy. Now, let us deliver this, and then we can be on our way...”