“I will have lunch ready for your return from the exercise,” Amelia said as she watched the two women walk towards the stables. It was a crisp February morning, and the housekeeper for Dame Gladys Holden, the show jumper, was preparing to do what had to be done that morning while they are out.
Closing the door that led into the yard from the large farm kitchen, she placed her hand over one of the hot plates on the Aga stove, smiling as she felt the heat starting to come through. Returning to the work surface, she sifted the flour and salt into a bowl, and then added the lukewarm water, forming a dough with her bare hands before she pummelled it into shape, and then put it into a bowl, covering it with cling film before placing it in the pantry.
The sound of the doorbell ringing caught her ear, as she removed her apron and hung it carefully on the back of the kitchen door. As she walked along the hallway, she stopped for a moment to check herself in the long mirror. She was wearing a peach coloured V-necked jumper, a long grey and brown tweed skirt that came down over her knees, and long burgundy red leather boots.
“I wonder who that could be,” she said to herself as she heard the doorbell again, and walked quickly across the open hallway to the large brown door. Running her hands over her carefully styled hair, she opened the door, saying “good morning – how can I help you?”
“Good morning, dear lady,” one of the two men standing in the doorway said, “please, allow us to come in. It is too fine a day to waste time standing in the doorway, true?”
“Well – I suppose I have no choice,” Amelia said as she stepped back, the two men walking in as one of them closed the door behind themselves. She looked at them – identically dressed, if with a striking difference in height, but the smaller of the two had a very real gun pointed at her. Their clothing was simple – black leather jackets, jumpers, shoes, leather gloves and balaclava masks covering their heads, so that only their mouths and lips were visible.
“Allow me to make the introductions,” the man with the gun said as he smiled, “I am Mister Small, and my friend here is Mister Tall. Would it be impolite to ask your name?”
“Aaaaaa… Amelia. Did you say Mister Tall and Mister Small? You… You’re the ones called The Gentlemen Robbers?”
“Our fame once again precedes us, Mister Small,” the taller of the two men said with a smile. “Well, Amelia, our business is really with the lady of the house, but it does mean that with deep regret, we have to ensure you are not in a position to either intimate our presence when she returns, or to interfere with whatever happens. Please, accept our apologies for that.”
“I… I really do not have a choice, do I?”
“No, you do not,” Mister Small said as he looked at her. “May I suggest we retire to the dining room, and make you comfortable there?” He indicated with his gloved hand as Mister Tall nodded in agreement, and Amelia noticed for the first time the large black bag he had in his hand.
“This way,” she said quietly as she led them into a large open room, a long table in the middle with dining chairs arranged around it. Mister Tall put the bag on the table, and selected a chair, bringing it into the centre of the room as Mister Small said “please, Amelia, take a seat, and let your arms fall to the side of the chair.”
“You’re robbing Dame Gladys?”
“Yes, we are – but I think she will understand your position when we talk to her,” Mister Tall said as he selected a length of soft white rope, waiting as Amelia sat down before he guided her arms round the chair back, and started to bind her wrists together, taking the cord around and between her limbs.
Amelia watched as Mister Small glanced out of the windows, and then closed the drapes over them as she felt her wrists been tied to one of the supports in the chair back. “There,” Mister Tall said as he walked to the table, “I trust that is not too uncomfortable so far?”
“Not really, no,” Amelia had to admit it was not too bad, even as he started to wind the rope around her upper body and the chair back.
“Please excuse me for a moment,” Mister Small said with a bow, “I need to ensure the telephone and internet connections are closed down, and deal with any annoying security issues. Mister Tall will take very good care of you.”
“I have a choice,” Amelia said quietly as the rope went around her arms, body and the chair, forcing her to sit in an upright position as her jumper was stretched over her body.
“Regretfully, no,” Mister Tall said as he pulled the rope one last time, and tied it off, “but we have no desire to cause undue distress. Some is, sadly, unavoidable in our lien of business, but we do try and minimise it.”
He then knelt down at Amelia’s feet, crossing her ankles as she watched him secure her ankles together. The doubled over rope was passed around her legs, the ends fed through the central loop and pulled back before he quickly wound it round her legs three times. She had to admire his skill and speed – the bands neatly arranged, and her ankles held firmly together. Doubly so as he took the ends between her legs, tightening the binding before he tied the ends off, and then pulled her ankles to the side, securing them to where the crosspiece met the chair leg.
“One last length, I think,” he said as he stood and walked to the bag, and then secured her legs together above her knees, gathering her skirt around her legs as he did so. He then took a moment to ensure her knees were still covered, before he said “now, before we take steps to ensure you cannot verbally warn Dame Gladys, would you care for a drink? The methods we use can leave the mouth somewhat dry, so best to have any thirst slaked first.”
“You have to be the most unusual armed home invaders I have ever heard of.”
“And we take great pride in that fact Amelia. May I offer you some water?”
As she nodded, he drew a bottle of water and a straw from the bag, opening the top and inserting the straw in the neck before he held it to her lips. She took a long drink as Mister Small returned, saying “security systems taken care of Mister Tall. How are we doing here?”
“Well, I think we have Amelia safely secured – I was just allowing her some refreshment before we ensured her silence.”
“A very sensible move,” Mister Small said as he went to the bag, taking out a black silk square and folding it into a pad before he walked over. “If you have had sufficient to drink, Amelia?”
“I’m ready,” she said quietly as Mister Tall took the straw from the bottle, putting it into a plastic bag before returning the top to the bottle. As he put them back in the bag, Amelia opened her mouth and allowed Mister Small to push the silk wad in, watching as she closed her lips over it before he tore a strip from a wide roll of white tape, and pressed it over her lips, gently but firmly, so that her mouth and jaw were covered.
“There – Mister Small, if you would kindly start to look upstairs, I will take care of business down here. I will inform you if Lady Gladys should return early…”
“I wonder who that is at the farmhouse,” Hortense Holden said as she rode across the fields towards their home. The nineteen year old had her blonde hair held back in a ponytail, and was wearing a white blouse, open at the neck and the sleeves rolled back slightly, tweed riding britches with a suede inside and behind, and black knee length riding boots.
“It’s probably just a delivery – let’s get the horses back and then we can see what Amelia has prepared for lunch,” Gladys said on the horse beside her daughter. The older woman had her blonde hair free, and her blouse had a closed round collar and short sleeves, but otherwise she was identically dressed to her daughter.
“Sounds like a plan,” Hortense said as they trotted across the fields and into the yard, the stable hand coming out and taking the horses as they dismounted and removed their riding helmets. Walking across the yard to the kitchen door, they talked quietly about a meeting they were attending that afternoon, neither particularly looking forward to it as they went into the farmhouse.
“Amelia?” As Gladys looked round, she could see nothing had been prepared, and there was no sign of their housekeeper.
“She must be in the drawing room, tidying things up,” Hortense said as they went into the hallway, but as Gladys walked on Hortense heard a sound in the dining room, and opened the door, walking in to see what had happened.
“Strange,” Gladys said as she looked round, “I wonder where…”
Gladys turned round to see Hortense – but standing behind her was a man, about six foot seven tall, with his gloved hand on her shoulder as he said “good afternoon Lady Gladys – I regret to say your housekeeper is unable to prepare your lunch at this time. But, and I do apologise for this, neither you nor your charming daughter will be in a position to eat any food for a while.”
“What on earth are you talking about? Who are you, and why are you…”
“Mummy – he has a knife…”
Gladys looked at the fear in Hortense’s face, and the smile in the mouth of the masked man, before she said “please, do not hurt her.”
“It is neither my intention, nor that of my partner, to harm either of you, Lady Gladys – so long as you do what we say. Your housekeeper is quite safe – isn’t she, my dear young lady?”
“She’s tied to one of the dining chairs, and her mouth has tape over it,” Hortense said as the masked man released her, saying “go and join your mother, my dear lady.”
“Ah – I see Lady Gladys has returned, Mister Tall.”
The two women saw a second man, a foot smaller but identically dressed, come in as the first man said “Indeed Mister Small.”
“Well, that is a most fortuitous timing – I have located the safe, and I would hate to make a mess forcing it open. Therefore, Lady Gladys, I require the combination.”
“Oh my god,” the older women whispered quietly, “The Gentlemen Robbers?”
“That is indeed us – so if you know us and of our reputation, then you will be aware that if you comply with our reasonable requests, all will be well. Mister Small, will you fetch the bag from the dining room, and ensure Amelia is still secured?”
“Of course,” the smaller man said as he walked off, Mister Tall smiling as he said “please, both of you take a seat on the Ottoman over there. Let us be about our business.”
“You’ve heard of them Mummy,” Hortense said as she sat down, holding her mother’s hand.
“I have, Hortense – they are the men responsible for the St Monica’s Ladies Circle robbery. I think you need to use those special lessons you had at St Blazius…”
“Ah – a fine establishment,” Mister Tall said as Mister Small brought the bag in, and handed Mister Tall two lengths of cord. “Now, may I impose on you both to lean forward, and put your hands behind your back?”
“It’s all right Mummy,” Hortense said quietly, “if they are who they say they are, then it will not hurt. Do me first.”
“As you wish,” Mister Tall said as he took the young woman’s wrists behind her back, crossing and securing them together with one length of cord, before he did the same to Gladys. As he did this, Mister Small took a similar length of rope and knelt down, crossing Hortense’s ankles and lashing them together as well. She watched as her ankles were forced together, while Mister Tall fetched a longer length of rope, and started to bind Gladys’ arms to her body, forming two bands above and below her chest.
“Why are you tying my legs and not Mummy’s,” Hortense said as Mister Small tied the ends off behind her legs, and then fetched a second length, using it to secure her legs together below her knees.
“I will take your mother upstairs,” Mister Small said as he seperated the ends, and took them betwene her legs, his gloved fingers working quickly, “while Mister Tall ensures you are comfortable in here. You have our word that your mother will come back and join you when we have finished.”
Looking at Gladys, Hortense saw how the ropes stretched her blouse, but also with the ropes between her mother’s arms and body how her arms were locked into place. Gladys wriggled round, and looked over as Hortense moved her legs, the ropes and leather squeaking as she did so.
“If you will stand and come with me, Lady Gladys,” Mister Small said. As she stood, she turned and said to Hortense “you need to be brave now.”
“I will Mummy,” she said with a smile as she watched the smaller of the two men walk off with her mother, and then felt her arms as they were pulled into her sides while Mister Tall wound the rope around her, forming a band above and below her chest as he did so.
“I really will not be able to move, will I,” she said quietly as he tied the ropes off, and then passed a smaller length between her arm and body on her left side, the bands tightening even more as he tied it around both of them, and repeated the process on the other side.
“That is the general intention, my dear young lady,” Mister Tall said quietly as he tied the rope off. “I know St Blazius teach escape classes, so I will remain until your mother comes back with my partner.”
“You are well informed,” Hortense said with a smile. “Now what?”
“Time for you to be silenced,” Mister Tall said as he folded a red square of silk and held it in his gloved hand.
“Please, be seated on the bed,” Mister Small said as Gladys sat down, seeing the empty jewellery boxes as well as the safe door. “If you would be so good as to give me the combination?”
“I really have no choice do I?”
“You do have a choice, Lady Gladys – comparatively little disturbance, or a major cleaning job for your charming housekeeper. Which would you rather have?”
“When you put it that way…” Gladys gave a series of numbers, Mister Small nodding as he turned the handle, and then opened the safe.
“Ah – now this is what I was looking for,” he said as he removed a number of black books, and placed them into his bag.”
“What do you want my ex-husband’s diaries for?”
“Mine not to ask, mien only to execute the commission,” Mister Small said with a smile as he also bagged the rolls of banknotes. “Now, I assume you wish to return to be with your daughter?”
Gladys nodded as she watched the masked man take from his jacket pocket a sponge ball, compressing it as he said “open wide.” As she did so, he pushed the ball in, and she felt it expand behind her teeth, pressing her tongue down and filling her mouth as she closed her lips. He then took a roll of white tape from his pocket, tore a length off, and pressed it firmly onto her face, covering her lips and jaw so that she could not open or make more than a low mumbling noise.
Gladys nodded as she stood up and walked back down the stairs, entering the drawing room and seeing Hortense lying on her side on the Ottoman. Her ankles were secured to the leg at one end, and she had white tape over her mouth as well, the shape of her lips moving visible as she said “hmmlrhthmhmmee. Ewwww?”
Gladys nodded as she was helped to sit in a Queen Anne chair, Mister Small quickly securing her ankles and legs below her knees, and then tying her ankles to one of the front legs of the chair.
“Well,” Mister Tall said as his partner put the bag inside the large black one, and then closed it, “I believe our business is here is concluded. We will do one more check on your housekeeper, and then depart. The Gentlemen Robbers bid you adieu ladies – may we never meet again.”
Hortense and Gladys looked at each other as the two masked men walked out of the room. They walked into the dining room, Amelia looking at them as they checked the ropes before Mister Small said “thank you for your hospitality Amelia?”
“Both of them are in the drawing room, secured and silenced,” Mister Small said before he gave a small bow, and the two men walked out of the room. She listened to the front door as it opened and closed, and then started to try and find a way to free herself. In the drawing room, Gladys watched as Hortense started to wriggle round, her boots squeaking as she searched for a way to start to release herself.
“Did you find them,” Mister Tall said as he drove off in the grey minivan.
“I did – our client will be able to use them to good effect,” Mister Small said quietly, “and a fair finder’s fee for us as well.”
“Indeed – I trust they will have taken the hint?”
“Her daughter went to St Blazius, Mister Tall – I reckon it will take her about an hour…”