Sara’s Gentlemanly Intrusion
to Carrington's most famous eighteen year old on her first big interview!"
Harriet announced, raising her glass of lime and lemonade.
"Cheers!" my friends chorused from our corner of the dimly lit bar, the sound of our clinking glasses drowned out by the blaring music.
I begrudgingly joined in, glad the low light disguised my blushes. "Come on, it was only an interview for a radio show which averages eight thousand listeners."
"All famous crime fighters had to start somewhere!" Rachel shouted over the thumping dance track.
"I don't want to be a famous crime fighter. And I don't know why you three didn't want to join in?"
Abigail emitted a noise that was half a laugh, half a squeak. "Me, talking on air for the whole town to hear? Not bloody likely."
"You're the boss, so you get all the glamorous jobs," Rachel told me, while clenching with her teeth the straw dipped into her mojito.
You've probably guessed there was to be no snooping for the CGDA tonight. It was Friday night and Carrington was filled with people between the ages of twenty five and sixteen, all of them intent on cramming into anywhere there was space. My hometown is far from party central, but there are two decent sized clubs and plenty of bars to occupy us whippersnappers.
I took a swig of my vodka and coke before examining my bright red party dress. It had one strap over my left shoulder and a black sash tied about my waist like a ribbon, the outfit completed by dark tights and black high heel pumps. My shoulder length brown hair had been straightened and brushed my shoulders as I jiggled them up and down in time to the music.
Beside me raven haired Rachel looked radiant in a white spaghetti strap dress with a knee length hem, and brown cork wedge heel sandals on her bare feet. Trendy Abigail wore a red floral print dress with the straps tied underneath her bright blonde hair in a bow, dark tights and purple velvet high heel pumps. Red headed Harriet had glammed up about as much as she normally did, in skinny blue jeans, a loose fitting sleeveless blue top and black high heel pumps.
It wasn't just the four of us. Designated driver Harriet had also brought along Eleanor, who you might remember from my encounter with the China Doll Gang. The tall and athletic brunette was on many of Harriet's sports teams, and as a result they'd become good friends. Tonight Eleanor wore a cream tanktop, denim miniskirt, colourless tights and the same pair of grey ankle boots she'd worn that long, uncomfortable night we'd shared. She hadn't said much but looked happy to be here regardless.
The sixth member of our group then returned from the bar with a full glass of white wine in her hand. She wore a blue casual dress, dark tights and brown leather knee high boots. Additionally she was almost the spitting image of Rachel, with the same beautifully defined face, bright blue eyes and shade of raven hair, though hers just reached her shoulders. She was Rachel's older sister Louise.
In contrast to my volatile relationship with my sibling, the Simpson sisters could not have been closer. After the death of their mother when Rachel was only eight, Louise had taken her under her wing. As a result Rachel idolised her. Louise was ludicrously intelligent, now in her third year of studying biology at Oxford and well on course to take a Masters afterwards. She didn't spend that much time in Carrington nowadays, balancing her work commitments with her long term boyfriend William who was completing his PHD, specialising in the history of art. But she was on a reading week, and had returned to spend time with her little sister in between intense revision periods.
"You aren't encouraging Rach to go on another of your snooping expeditions?" Louise winked mischievously at me.
I laughed. I knew she was winding me up, and I happily rose to the bait. "You can always join in on our next case."
"Sorry, I've got so much work that I can't afford to spend any time held prisoner in a dingy warehouse. Besides, I'm more interested in finding out the name of this mysterious bloke that my sister is holding out for."
"Hmm yes it's a real mystery," I smirked, watching Rachel stare into her mojito in embarrassment. "Though she's not the only one with a secret crush, am I right Harriet?"
"Oh not this again," Harriet laughed. "What exactly do you think I'm hiding?"
"Come on. All these secret texts and phone calls," Abigail teased. Turning to Eleanor she asked, "Do you know who this guy is then?"
Fiddling with her wine glass, Eleanor said cryptically, "I'm sworn to secrecy. Besides it's not really my place to say."
"Oh leave the poor lady alone," Harriet intervened jovially, after which Eleanor shot her a grateful smile.
Louise drained what remained of her wine with one big gulp. "Right I've got a full days revision tomorrow, and take it from me, doing so with a headache is never advisable. What time will you be back Rach?"
"Well with dad away whenever the hell I feel like it!" Rachel announced happily, eying her empty glass as if hoping it would magically refill itself.
"I'll bring her back in one piece!" I smiled, getting up myself. "On that note, tequila slammers on me?" My announcement was greeted with enthusiastic claps from Rachel, Abigail and Eleanor, and a sarcastic boo from deliberately sober Harriet. We hugged Louise goodnight, before we departed to join the crowds by the bar while she made for the exit.
Rachel and Louise lived within walking distance from the centre of Carrington. Louise wrapped her cardigan about her to shield her from the whipping wind. As she walked she pulled out her phone to text her boyfriend. She barely paid any attention to the nondescript grey van, nor the two men sitting in the front seats watching her walk by. The two men, one about six foot four and the other about five foot seven, nodded to each other, before the taller man turned on the ignition.
"Just a small town ggggiiiiiirrrrrlllll…livin' in a lonelllllyyyy woooorrrrllllddd!" chorused Rachel and Abigail bombastically as they stumbled into the living room. They held on to each other for support, teetering precariously on their high heels but managing to stagger to a sofa where they collapsed in a giggling heap.
Harriet and I followed, laughing at the current drunken state of our two friends. "How many tequila slammers did you buy these two?" Harriet asked me over the sound of them imitating the guitar riff from 'Don't Stop Believing.'
Leaning into the hallway I shouted upstairs, "Louise, your sister could do with a big glass of water."
Rachel's bleary eyes widened as she shook her head from side to side. "Oooh don't tell Louise. My dad will kill me if he finds out how drunk I am…Are you drunk Abigail?"
"I'm…blood hammered," Abigail announced dramatically, flopping into the cushions and writhing about in them.
I could tell. Rachel had a real party streak so I was used to seeing her after one too many drinks. But I'd never known Abigail to get like this. Gone was the shy and reserved young lady, replaced by a loud and bombastic blondie who was up for anything. It was well funny.
"I'm telling you, right now I could escape from all the kidnappers in the world put together," Abigail giggled happily. Clasping her hands together in front she added, "Go on, tie me up reeeeaaallly tight. I bet you…a thousand pounds I can escape!"
"No no no no no, make it a million pounds," Rachel interjected, mimicking Abigail's gesture and waggling her fingers at me.
"Don't tempt me," Harriet informed them. Then she turned to me and asked, "How come you're so sober?"
That explanation revolves around me catching up with my boyfriend Matthew at the nightclub, after which my mind turned to matters other than drinking. After a brief and intimate bop on the dance floor we'd retreated to a darkened corner for, how shall I put this, a session of intense canoodling. Eleanor had interrupted our fun when she informed me that Rachel and Abigail were currently rolling around on the dance floor in a pool of spilt lager, at which I bade Matthew goodnight and helped Harriet and Eleanor transport my reeling friends back to Rachel's house.
Eleanor entered the living room with two tall glasses of water, one of which she handed over to me. Wafting it in front of Rachel's mouth I said, "Down the hatch!"
She took an eager sip, then almost spat it back out. "Eurgh, this is just water!"
"You'll thank me in the morning Rach!"
After another sip Rachel clasped my forearm and pulled me in closer. Her eyes closing she murmured "Oh Sarararararara Philips. You do look after me…you and that stupid…sexy brother of yours…"
The alcohol was really having a negative effect on her now. I kept her awake by plying her with water, while beside me Eleanor did the same with Abigail, who was gulping it back eagerly. "Thanks for helping us bring them back," Harriet told her.
Eleanor looked over her shoulder at Harriet and smiled fondly. "Hey, compared to the last night out I spent with Sara this is nothing. Though I guess if I'm going to be hanging out with you more from now…"
Her expression suddenly changed from one of relaxation to one of shock. Her unguarded comment intrigued me. "What do you mean by that?" I asked.
Eleanor and Harriet glanced at each other, before Harriet folded her arms and looked at the floor. Then she said, "Listen, not an opportune moment I know Sara, but I've got something to tell you."
But then there was a heavy thumping noise from upstairs. "Louise, Louise is that you?" I yelled. I got no reply. Handing my glass over to Harriet I said, "I'd best bring her down."
"Yeah that's cool," Harriet smiled at me, but strangely for her it was a false one. I resisted the urge to ask her there and then, instead exiting the living room and walking upstairs. My high heels echoed off the wooden staircase, and I clasped the bannister to stabilise me against whatever alcohol remained in my system. I walked along the landing to Louise's bedroom, where I knocked on her closed door.
"Are you in there Louise?" I got no reply, but I heard the sound of movement from inside and saw light from underneath the door. I slowly turned the handle, opened the door and gasped at what I saw inside.
"Ssssssrrrrr gggggtttt tttttt. Ggggtttt nnnwwwwyyy!" Louise yelled at me through the thick woolly scarf pulled between her lips and tied off over her raven hair. She was lying on her bed on her front, kept there due to the ropes connecting her bound wrists and ankles together in a loose, yet effective, hogtie. The leather of her boots squeaked as she jiggled her feet up and down, clasping her hogtie rope with her wriggling fingers.
"Bloody hell Louise!" I exclaimed, darting forward without thinking. In doing so I committed the cardinal sin of snooping. Not checking my surroundings upon discovering a tied up hostage. It meant I didn't notice the other people in the room until after one grabbed my shoulder firmly with a gloved hand.
"I'm afraid I must insist you leave Miss Simpson alone," a calm voice spoke politely into my ear.
I slowly looked around and saw two men, both dressed in dark jackets and trousers with balaclava's obscuring their faces. They were quite the pair, because while the one grabbing my shoulder was incredibly tall, the man standing at his side was a little smaller than me.
The tall man then spoke calmly, "I apologise for surprising you like this. Perhaps a formal introduction is in order. I am Mr Tall and this is my associate Mr Small…"
"The Gentleman Robbers!" I breathed.
These two men were quite infamous, responsible for a spate of home invasions and robberies. But their calling card was how they conducted each crime with impeccable manners and utmost respect. They often left their victims restrained, but made sure they took their feelings and comfort into account. Criminals with a conscious one tabloid had nicknamed them. But despite knowing all this I still felt a nervous knot forming in my throat, particularly when I saw the large knife in Mr Small's hand.
"Our reputation precedes us it seems," Mr Small remarked simply.
"You could say that. You were responsible for that home invasion in Newcastle not too long ago weren't you?"
"On the same night you were held hostage by the China Doll Gang, am I right Miss Sara Philips?" Mr Tall told me.
I blinked at them in surprise. "You know who I am?"
"We are not the only ones in this room with a reputation," Mr Small told me. "We heard all about your resourceful and brave adventures on the radio earlier today. We also hear the China Dolls are very upset with you for completely ignoring their helpful advice."
"What are they going to do, come back and tie me up again?"
"They've been tempted," Mr Tall replied simply.
I decided against asking a follow up question. Instead I looked again at the whimpering Louise as she writhed on her double bed, messing up her duvet cover as she arched her back against her hogtie. "Are you ok?" I asked her.
"Mmmm ffffnnn. Wwwwrrrsss rrrccccchhhllll?" Louise replied, staring at me with her blue eyes wide open. This was her first time as a bound and gagged captive, and I could tell she wasn't all that comfortable with it.
"As I'm sure you're aware we loathe resorting to violent and aggressive tactics," Mr Tall informed me, while Mr Small unzipped a duffel bag. "Provided those we visit do not cause too much trouble we much prefer to leave them unharmed, though inconveniently circumstanced."
I gave a snort of ironic laughter. "Let me take a wild stab in the dark as to where this is going."
Mr Small nodded at me as from the bag he withdrew a coil of white rope which he began to unravel. "We apologise for this Sara. We had hoped to conclude our business here before you and your friends got home. Your unscheduled arrival means we must resort to these measures."
"Yeah yeah, story of my bloody life," I joked with a sigh as I felt Mr Small grab my wrists and cross them over behind my back. Yet I didn't resist as I felt him wrap rope around and in between them. If anything I just felt concern for Louise as she watched on helplessly, and narked off at the prospect of spending yet another evening with ropes constricting every part of my body.
As my wrist bonds were tightened off I asked, "Why didn't you just rob the house when we were out drinking?"
"Because, lamentably, we didn't come to rob the house."
"Strange use of the word 'lamentably'."
"I suppose so yes."
I watched as a long piece of cord was pulled about my waist just above the black sash of my dress, which Mr Small then attached to the ropes about my wrists. "Well what are you here for?" I asked, sounding as confused as I actually was.
"All will be revealed in due time," Mr Tall told me as his accomplice finished tying my hands. "Now if you would care to take us downstairs and introduce us to your friends."
"Nnnnnmmmm!" Louise protested, but was only able to watch as both men escorted me out into the hallway before shutting her bedroom door.
Not a word was said as we walked downstairs. Apparently Harriet heard my footsteps, and unknowingly pulled the living room door open to greet me. "You were up there for a while, I was beginning to think those tequila slammers were starting to disagree…" Her smile faded when she saw me with ropes wrapped about my waist and hands, flanked by two men wearing balaclavas. She took the scene in for a couple of seconds, before she gave a resigned sigh and remarked to me, "Can't leave you alone for five minutes can I?"
"Oh my God!" Eleanor gasped as the Gentleman Robbers pushed us both back into the living room.
Rachel dopily took in the scene, before she groggily got to her feet. "Don't worry Sara…Illlllll sssaaaavve you!"
But she only took one step before she toppled over, falling into the waiting arms of Mr Tall. "You have had a rather exuberant night haven't you my dear?" he remarked as he lowered her back into the sofa, resting her against the now semi-conscious Abigail, who's head was slumping into the cushions.
"Greetings ladies. I am Mr Small and this is my associate Mr Tall," the relevant gentleman explained. "As Sara will no doubt ratify, if you do as instructed no harm will come to you."
"He's telling the truth," I confirmed from where I was stood in the doorway with Mr Small grasping my immobile arms.
As Mr Tall reopened the duffle bag he'd brought down he asked, "May I enquire your names?" while pointing between the red head and the brunette.
"I'm Eleanor and this is Harriet!" Eleanor replied, sounding surprisingly calm.
Mr Tall threw over a bundle of white rope. "Well then Eleanor, would you be so kind as to tie Harriet's hands behind her?"
"No!" Harriet suddenly blurted very uncharacteristically. "Can I tie Eleanor's hands instead?"
After a brief pause Mr Tall answered, "If Eleanor is happy with that arrangement?"
Eleanor had no objections, handing over the rope before allowing Harriet to cross her wrists behind her. "Why do you want to do this?" she asked while her hands were fixed together.
Harriet looked stoic as she replied, "I'd just feel better about me doing it instead of a pair of home invading strangers…no offence or anything."
"None taken," Mr Small replied casually.
Eleanor gave a nervous laugh, looking over her shoulder as the binding of her wrists was completed. "You worry too much. I'll be fine!"
I then watched on in amazement as Harriet wrapped her hands around Eleanor's waist from behind, resting her chin on Eleanor's shoulder. "I know babe. This will all be over before you know it."
Eleanor let her head fall against Harriet's. "You promise to take care of yourself, alright?"
I felt like my head was about to explode in surprise. I suddenly came to the realisation that Harriet's mystery bloke had actually been a mystery girl!
Mr Small broke up the scene by saying, "I must insist Eleanor comes with me. She has no personal stake in what is about to transpire." Eleanor nodded, and slowly walked over to Mr Small. Our eyes met as he escorted her past me. They were filled with concern and worry, but I surmised not over the binding situation she now found herself in.
"I swear if you do anything to hurt her…" Harriet began to rant after Eleanor had left with Mr Small, while Mr Tall deposited me on the sofa next to Rachel.
"We give you our solemn word no harm will come to her or to any of you," Mr Tall insisted, picking up yet more rope.
I watched on almost in a daze as he then proceeded to bind Harriet's hands behind her, before looping more rope about her waist like me. I should have spent the time trying to loosen my own bonds, but I felt stunned. I hardly noticed when Rachel's head dropped onto my shoulder as she drifted off to the land of nod, unable to fend off the effects of the alcohol any longer.
Before I knew it I Mr Tall was asking me very politely to sit on the floor with my back to Harriet. After I complied he proceeded to bind us together back to back, with loop after loop of rope around our bodies and arms just underneath my breasts. Yet my mind was completely elsewhere. I wondered how the hell I hadn't noticed? And I wondered why Harriet had felt it necessary to keep this a secret from me?
So lost in thought was I that I barely registered Mr Tall crossing my feet over at the ankles, then begin roping them together. He made several circuits, even coiling cord underneath my soles to keep my pumps fixed on my feet. Only when he began to bind my legs just above my knees did I think to properly test my restraints. They were rigid and immovable, but I'd been in much more uncomfortable positions. Even so I really wasn't going anywhere, as confirmed by my tests while Mr Tall proceeded to bind Harriet's legs.
Mr Small returned right as his accomplice finished his work. "I've left Eleanor in the master bedroom, inconveniently circumstanced but unhurt. I trust you approve?" His question was directed to Harriet, and I sensed her nodding behind me.
Mr Tall then looked over to the dozing drunken pair. "What do we do about these two Mr Small?"
This snapped me right back to attention. "You can't be serious? Look, they're completely out of it!"
"Tying them would just be dangerous! What happens if they're sick?" Harriet seconded.
"It is a curious dilemma," Mr Small agreed. He thought it through for a second, then clicked his fingers. He whispered his solution to Mr Tall.
"Oh what an ingenious idea Mr Small," his associate agreed, before he handed out more rope. He picked up the unconscious Abigail and carried her to the opposing sofa, while Mr Small lay Rachel out on her side.
"What the hell are you doing?" Harriet insisted. But nothing we could say had an effect on what happened next. They lay out the girls left arms at a ninety degree angle to their heads, then placed their right hands against their left elbow. This was the point at which they were bound together, making their right elbows jut out like triangles. Then moving down to their legs they made their right knee jut out then rested their right feet against their left calf. Only then, as I watched their legs be bound together like this, did I realise what they were doing. They were tying Rachel and Abigail into the recovery position.
"That should keep them both secure and safe," Mr Tall announced as he finished his work on Abigail.
"You really are unlike any villains I've ever met before," Harriet told them.
"We'll take that as a compliment," Mr Small replied. "We won't gag them in case they are sick, but I'm afraid it will be necessary to stop you two from…" He stopped mid-sentence, rifling through the duffle bag but not finding what he was looking for. "Oh would you believe it Mr Tall, I forgot the duct tape."
"Oh how forgetful of you Mr Small," his taller counterpart chided nonchalantly. Looking at Harriet and I he said, "We shall retire for a while to find an alternative."
Now I'm seventy five per cent sure I saw a roll of tape in that bag when I was in Louise's bedroom. So I found it very weird when both Gentleman Robbers left the living room, leaving me and Harriet to struggle alone. The only reason I can think of is that they noticed that there was a burning issue we needed to discuss.
"Found a loose end or anything?" Harriet asked, breaking the silence.
"Not a thing," I replied simply.
Harriet gave a nervous laugh. "If I had a penny for every time this happened to us." When I didn't reply, she sighed and looked up at the ceiling. "You're pretty narked at me aren't you?" she suddenly said.
"Of course I'm not," I immediately told her. "I'm just really surprised, that's all."
"Are you really that surprised? I've been leaving little hints for months."
I didn't tell her that I'd assumed all those jokes about sexy legs and big boobs had been just those, jokes. Instead I replied, "You could have just said. I mean, why didn't you tell me that you were…"
"Bisexual," Harriet interrupted, continuing to jiggle against her bonds as we talked. "When we watched Iron Man, I wasn't joking about wanting to perform lewd activities on Robert Downey Jr. I just want to do similar things to Gwyneth Paltrow."
"Yeah but I'm your friend, your sexuality isn't going to change that."
I felt her shrug through our conjoined bonds. "I dunno. I guess I was just afraid of what would happen to our friendship if you found out."
"Why would that ever happen Harriet? It's not like you fancy me or anything."
Harriet didn't reply.
The uncomfortable silence that followed created a painful knot in the back of my throat. I looked over my shoulder at the side of her face, and saw through strands of her red hair that she was blushing. Suddenly feeling gutted, I murmured, "Oh God Harriet…I."
"It…It's ok Sara…Thing is…"
Then, right on cue, Messrs Tall and Small returned, completely piercing the awkward moment. "Thank you for not making a fuss," Mr Small told us. "But I'm afraid it's necessary for us to silence you both for the remainder of the night."
They each held a pair of dark tights, presumably Rachel's, into which they had stuffed a cloth or sponge halfway down the leg. Before Harriet or I had a chance to mount a sufficient protest they forced the sponge part of their makeshift gags in between our teeth. Then they wrapped the nylon all around our heads, making two circuits and sealing the sponge into our mouths with another layer of fabric. Fortunately when I tasted detergent I realised they'd just been washed. Yet Harriet and I could only emit muffled growls by the time they'd tied the ends off behind our heads underneath our hair.
Mr Small checked our bonds while Mr Tall watched. With a hint of regret in his voice he said, "I do admire your conviction girls. No wonder you have achieved all that you have done. It is such a pity that he forced us to meet under these circumstances."
Harriet and I looked at each other over our shoulders, wondering what he meant. Then just as Mr Small stood up the phone in his pocket started to ring. He fished it out, checked the caller ID, before telling Mr Tall, "It's him."
We watched on as Mr Small answered the call, and listened as he said, "You got the photographs of Miss Simpson then?...Yes they are here as well now…Hold on." Then he took the phone away from his ear, pushed a key on the touchscreen and said, "You're now on loudspeaker."
"Well hey diddly hey do-gooders!" said the voice down the phone.
I felt my heart freeze over. I knew that smug, mocking voice all too well. "Whhhtttt ttthhh hhhlllll rrrr yyyynnnn dddnnnnnggg?" I bellowed as best I could down the phone to the arch villain Mr White.
"Hark, is that the dulcet tones of a bound and gagged Sara Philips I hear?" Mr White cackled. "Oh if only I could be there in person to see the look on your pretty gagged face. How are you enjoying the hospitality of our polite house crashers?"
"Whhhttt ttthhhh hhhhllll sssss gggnnnn nnnn?" Harriet barked, as we both stared up at Mr Tall and Small. Was it really possible that they were in cahoots with Mr White?
Judging by the tone of Mr Small's voice when he next spoke, I surmised it wasn't a mutual friendship. "You have some serious explaining to do," he said firmly.
"About my incomparable genius little titch? Oh thanks for the pics of Louise all trussed up. It made it so much easier to get her dashing boyfriend to comply with my demands."
I felt my heart skip a beat. What did he want with Louise's boyfriend? Whatever it was began to fill my body with dread. "Wwwwwtttt rrrrr yyynnn ppppllllnnnn?" I snarled at the phone in Mr Small's hand.
"Oh what I'm planning Miss Philips is the art theft of the century. A long lost painting of King Ethelred has been recovered and it's been transported to Oxford all set for its unveiling next week. Young William has been working ever so hard on the project, which is why he's ideally placed to steal it for me. All he needed was a little incentive, like threats against his girlfriend, to make him comply, and then he gets all the blame. Brilliant eh?"
"I suggest you drop all that pompous pretence," Mr Tall retorted angrily.
"Oh what does that mean big fella?"
"You don't care one jot about that painting. All you care about is continuing your feud with an innocent eighteen year old girl. You're framing William purely as a means of tormenting Sara for having the gumption to stand up to you, and we find such tactics to be quite frankly…"
"Not very gentlemanly?"
"Actually I was going to say despicable."
Mr White merely laughed at him. "How rich. I get a lecture in manners from criminals who make a living in home invasion and theft. Remember you two, I have something that you desperately don't want falling into the wrong hands. And if you don't finish this job for me I'll be handing it over to the highest bidder."
"We are not the ones you should be afraid of," said Mr Small. "We have powerful allies and they won't stand for your activities."
"And that's really why I'm doing this," Mr White sneered. "You can tell your madams and your dolls and your catburglers that there's a new villain in town, and if they don't stay out of my way, they'll end up at my mercy like you two."
"We are far from at your mercy…"
"And nice theory about me concocting all this just to get even with Philips, but that's only the cherry on top. Because when I do get even with Sara and her little band of mates, I assure you that I'll be getting my own hands dirty, and I will take great pleasure in it! TTFN do-gooders!"
And with that he ended the call. Then I was filled with a red hot anger. Louise's boyfriend was in serious trouble, another innocent victim of Mr White's vendetta against me. And the Gentleman Robbers were complicit in his plan. "TTTTHHHHSSS SSSS LLLLL YYYRRRR FFFFLLLLTTTT!" I roared at them in fury, stamping my feet and bucking against my bonds, desperate to give them a piece of my mind as Mr Tall left the room.
"We understand you are upset Sara," Mr Small informed me. "But you must understand that we have been manipulated into this act. We do not revel in your misfortune in the way Mr White does."
"Lllll tttthhhhtttsss gggrrrtt tttnnnnkkksss!" Harriet scoffed indignantly, bucking just as hard as me, making the ropes rub loudly against the fabric of her jeans.
Mr Small knelt down beside me and said quite plainly, "There are others like us who share a strict code of conduct when committing a crime. I can assure you that they want Mr White to face punishment as much as you and I. And thanks to a sneaky tip off, they may yet stop his plan before it reaches fruition." When I saw him wink, I hazarded a solid guess as to who this tip off had come from. "But there is one more thing we must do before we go," Mr Small announced as he rose.
Harriet and I watched him apprehensively, but breathed easier when Mr Tall returned carrying two empty buckets, which he placed underneath where Rachel and Abigail were resting their heads. "We wouldn't want them making a mess of such a fine carpet should they be sick," he explained.
Then Mr Small grabbed the now significantly lighter duffle bag, and stood in the doorway with Mr Tall. "It has been a pleasure to meet such a remarkable band of young women," Mr Tall announced sincerely. "Farewell, and may our paths never cross again." And with that they left the living room, and there was the sound of the front door opening and closing as the Gentlemen Robbers walked into the night.
That was the cue for Harriet and me to start struggling like mad. Our exposed shoulders rubbed against each other as we twisted our bodies from side to side, while we tried to clasp the others wrist bonds with our numbing fingers. I jiggled my legs up and down hiking up the hem of my dress, but not one knot loosened. Behind me I heard Harriet grunting as she did everything to writhe free, but to no avail. The minutes doubled in length as Harriet and I came to the conclusion that we were well and truly stuck like this. I chewed on the nylon filling my mouth, trying to ignore the chafing sensation around my wrists and ankles.
On the sofa ahead of me Rachel moaned as she stirred in her drink induced sleep, flexing her limbs unknowingly against her bondage. "Rrrrccchhh, wwwkkk pppp!" I pleaded, trying to get her attention.
"Nnnnooo I want to ride the pony…" Rachel slept talked before she sank back into unconsciousness, her raven hair sprawled over the cushions. I raised my eyes to the ceiling, for the first time wishing she didn't drink so much.
Suddenly the song, 'Glory glory Man Utd' was heard from just behind me; Harriet's ringtone. Only then did we realise that the robbers had left her phone in her pocket. It was our best opportunity to escape by far!
"Tttsss nnnn mmmmm llllfffttt pppccckkttt. Cccnnn yyyynnnn ggggttt tttt?" Harriet mumbled as I twisted my bound arms trying to reach her beeping phone.
"Ddddddmmmmtt, nnnn cccnnntt rrrccchhh!" I sighed, scraping her jeans with my fingers but unable to grasp the phone in her pocket. We rocked from side to side in tandem, both beginning to wonder what our next move could be.
Then we heard a thumping noise from the stairs, followed by another. They continued at regular intervals getting closer and closer. Harriet and I paused as we listened, before it was replaced by the sound of high heels bouncing on wooden floorboards. Then the living room door swung open, and in bounced…
"LLLLLNNNNRRRR!" Harriet cried in delight.
"Mmmmm ccccmmmmmnnn ggggyyyss!" Eleanor announced through the scarf she was biting down on, teetering on the heels of her ankle boots as she bounced over, unable to do much more than hop due to the ropes binding her ankles, legs, hands and torso. As she hopped over I caught sight of a pair of scissors in her hands. She dropped to her knees and started rubbing the blade against the bonds binding my wrists. As I felt the ropes begin to fray I began to see just why Harriet had taken a shine to Eleanor.
"I am never, ever drinking again!" Rachel moped, rubbing her throbbing temple with her hands, her elbows resting on the kitchen table.
Harriet laughed at her miserable outburst. "I would say it served you right. But it was us sober ones who came off worst."
"Trust me, this is worse," moaned an equally miserable Abigail, who'd barely touched the bacon buttie I'd fried up for her.
As I placed a second bacon buttie down in front of Rachel she said, "Sorry I was so useless last night. If I hadn't been a drunken idiot I could have done more to help."
"There was nothing you could have done," I told her, thinking of the bonds we'd managed to escape from only a matter of hours ago.
"Yeah but if something happens to William because of all this…" She trailed off as I saw her shudder.
But then we heard an excited squeal and thundering footsteps. The door to the kitchen was thrown open and in skidded Louise, who looked utterly delighted. "You'll never guess what! William's in the clear! He didn't steal the painting!"
We all looked at each other with a mixture of relief and confusion. "What happened?" Eleanor asked for us.
"He says the painting had been already stolen by someone else. All they left was a post it note that said, 'Tell Mr W he'll have to do better than that!' He then went to the police and told them everything, and they won't prosecute him!" Her relief was almost infectious, and we all exhaled happily at the news.
"Three cheers for Inspector Morse," Harriet exclaimed. I smiled at her as I got the reference.
Louise sank into an empty chair and let the news sink in. "God that was almost unbearable. How the hell do you go through that so often Sara?"
I replied while looking at Harriet, "By having some really dependable friends. Listen I need some air, you want to come with?" Harriet nodded enthusiastically in confirmation.
We walked through the sliding patio doors and into Rachel's long, thin garden with its immaculately mowed lawn and the far end flanked by tall conifers, through which the rising sun was peeping. It was a dry but chilly morning, and I plunged my hands into the pouch of the grey hoodie I'd pulled over my dress. Harriet, in the same clothes but now only in her bare feet, sat down on a wooden swing seat overlooking the lawn, and I sat down next to her.
We knew what we had to discuss but neither of us really knew how to begin. Eventually I opened with a question. "Have I been a blind idiot?"
"No seriously Harriet, have I been?"
Harriet fed her arm through mine as a close friend. "I'll level with you Sara. You are officially, as blokes would say, a hottie. And when we were fourteen, I fancied the bleedin' pants off of you. That was why I stopped Vicky and her little band from bullying you, and why I started hanging out with you, Rachel and Abigail. I spent months checking for any sign that you might feel the same way about me."
"I wish I'd realised," I told her. "I wish I'd known so I'd…"
"Have done what, turned gay for me?" Harriet laughed. "Sara you're as straight as an arrow and there is nothing wrong with that. There's no way I'd want you to become someone you aren't. And the day I realised that you didn't reciprocate these feelings was the day I realised it didn't matter anymore. Because instead…I'd ended up with the best friend I'd ever had!"
Suddenly I felt overwhelmed, and I threw my arms around her neck. "You, Harriet Palmer, are among the most amazing girls I've ever met," I told her over her shoulder, holding back the tears stinging my eyes.
"Oh shut up," Harriet laughed, though her own voice was trembling from the emotion. "You're the remarkable one. I'd do anything for half the strength and courage you have. But Sara, just so you know, all the snooping, all the adventures, well I've loved every single minute of it, and I'd hate for this to come between us."
"Oh you'd better not go anywhere Harriet," I laughed, wiping away the moisture from my eyes. "The day you, Rachel and Abigail give all this up is the day I give it up. I want you by my side for however long we keep doing this."
Harriet looked happier then she had done in ages. "Great news boss. Now how about Eleanor and I break the happy news to Rachel and Abigail? That ought to shake them out of their hangovers!"
Reaching for the phone in my pouch I replied, "I'll be in in a minute. My parents have probably heard about all this by now. I just want to tell them I'm alright."
I watched as Harriet practically scampered over the paving slabs back into the house, feeling grateful that all this couldn't have worked out better. It looked like the Gentleman Robbers had kept their promise. The thought of Mr White going nuts over another failed scheme left me feeling very satisfied. I smirked to myself as I started dialling my home number.
But an unknown caller rang me first.
"Am I speaking to Sara Marie Philips?" a softly spoken yet authoritative female voice, like butter melting on hot toast, said after I answered.
"Yeah that's me."
"Wonderful. I thought I'd just check to see how you are following last night, given that this is the second time your name has cropped up during one of my projects."
"You were the one who stole the painting!" I hissed in realisation. "Who are you?"
"My name is not important."
"Well my mum told me not to speak to strangers so if you're going to hide things…"
"I am merely calling to warn you Sara. My associates managed to outwit Mr White this time but we may not be so fortunate the next. Plus, while I have almost unlimited resources at my disposal I have been unable to determine his identity, which is most disconcerting. All I can say for certain is that he has a dangerous obsession with you, so I suggest vigilance."
"Thanks for the show of concern, but I can look after myself."
There was a brief pause, before she answered without a hint or change of emotion, "You're on my radar Sara." And then the line went dead.