The St. Monica's Ladies Circle
The Parish Church of Saint Monica is in a village in the county of Shropshire – one of those little villages where everyone minds everyone else’s business, and nothing happens without all the residents knowing within a few hours. The vicar of this church, the Reverend Timmins, is well known and loved in the community, and his wife and daughter are both very active in the social life that surrounds a place such as this.
The Reverend and Mrs Timmins are both in their early fifties, while their daughter Mary is in her late twenties. Once a month, they meet with some of the other wives of the congregation in the Ladies Circle meeting. This month, however, unexpected events and visitors led to a more animated and unusual meeting….
It was a clear and crisp autumn afternoon, and the leaves were turning slightly brown as Angela Timmins and her daughter Mary left the vicarage for the monthly meeting of the Ladies Circle in the church hall. As they walked down the path that led to St Monica’s they didn’t notice a non-descript grey transit van parked slightly down the road, with two men sat in the front. The two men watched as the ladies turned the corner and disappeared out of view.
“So how long do you think that they will be?”
The smaller of the two men started talking while his taller companion checked through the contents of his rucksack. He then turned to reply
“Well, from what I saw a month or so back when I was checking the area these meetings seem to go on for some time. Nothing more than a regular coffee morning really, but at least it will keep them out of the house.”
The smaller man nodded and zipped up the leather jacket he was wearing.
“I’m not particularly fond of these commission jobs, you know.”
“Yes, but this one is paying well, and we may pick one or two other things up.”
“Time to go and pay them a visit then?”
“Yes, I think so. That philately album we read about needs to be viewed a bit more widely – or at least within the circles we deal with.”
The two men left the van, carrying a rucksack each, and looking cautiously around them they made their way towards the vicarage. Arriving at the front door, the taller of the two kept watch as the other man used a set of skeleton keys to open the locked door.
The old oak door swung open, and the two men moved noiselessly inside. As the smaller turned his attention to the alarm system, the taller pulled on a pair of gloves and looked around him.
“All done – we won’t be disturbed by the police now.”
“Excellent – you check out upstairs while I have a look in the study for that album.”
The smaller man made his way up to the upper floor, while the other walked quietly down to the back rooms and entered what was obviously the study. A swift search of the bookcase revealed a switch, and as it was pressed he watched a panel swing out to reveal a safe. Chuckling to himself, the intruder was about to start opening the safe when his attention was caught by the sound of a door opening. Silently closing the door, he took a balaclava from his jacket pocket and placed it over his head.
The sound of footsteps came down the corridor, and past the study towards what he presumed was the kitchen. He listened to see if his companion had heard as well, then made his way silently after the other person.
Mary Timmins was at the kitchen sink, filling a kettle with water. Of medium height and with shoulder length blonde hair, she was wearing a blue University of London sweatshirt, grey leggings and mid-length black suede boots, and had a black bandana tied over her hair. She took the kettle back to a socket to plug in, and then turned to be greeted by the sight of a masked man standing there, dressed in black and looking at her.
“Oh no – who are you, what are you doing here….” Mary tried to run out of the kitchen, but was caught by the man who placed a gloved hand over her mouth.”
“Please, my dear, by quiet or I may have to do something we will both regret.”
The sound of the door opening again, and a female voice called out “Mary, have you mmmmph!”
Pushing the frightened girl in front of her, the two people left the kitchen to be greeted by the sight of Angela Timmins standing in the hallway, with the smaller masked intruder holding her and his hand over her mouth.
“Why don’t we all go into the front room and calm down?” The taller man suggested, and the two women were pushed into what turned out to be the dining room. A long table with six chairs dominated the room.
“Now, if we take our hands away, do you both promise not to scream?”
Both of them nodded, and the two men let go.
“Now,” the taller man continued, “Would I be right in thinking that you are Angela and Mary Timmins, the wife and daughter of the vicar of this parish?”
“Yes,” Angela replied, “but who are you?”
“My name is Mister Tall, and my companion here is Mister Small.”
“What are you – robbers?”
“We are indeed, and I freely confess that we are here to take your husband’s stamp collection. We had hoped you would be out at your monthly meeting all morning – may I ask what happened?”
Angela turned to look at the two men. She was dressed in a black silk sweater and leather skirt, with knee length black leather boots, and her greying hair had a black scarf tied over it as a headband.
“None of your business, but there is a power cut. We have had to move the meeting to – oh no, here!”
The two men looked at each other.
“May I ask how many you are expecting today?”
“Three or four other women – oh no, please, what are you planning to do to us?”
Mary reached over and held her shaking mother. “It’s all right, Mum, they’re not going to do anything to us – they should just go and we’ll forget we ever saw them.”
“Admirable sentiments, Mary” Mr Tall responded pulling out a hand pistol, “but that’s not what’s going to happen. I can assure you, however, that apart from preventing you from getting in our way if you do as we say you and your friends will come to no harm. Mister Small – would you see if you can find some materials for us please?”
The smaller man nodded and left the room.
“Please, both of you, sit down in a chair and I’ll explain exactly what is going to happen,” Mister Tall said, pulling a length of cord from his rucksack as he did so….
Augusta Smyth-Wright marched up to the door of the vicarage. Wife of an retired Army major, she was used to getting her own way in all she did, and dressed with a military manner and bearing. Pulling her greatcoat around her, she knocked on the door of the building.
Mary opened the door, and stepped aside to allow Mrs Smyth-Wright in.
“I hope you have some coffee ready, Mary?”
“I… I’ll bring it through in a few minutes, Mrs Smyth-Wright. Perhaps you will come through to the dining room – we’re meeting there this morning.”
“Are you all right, Mary – something seems to be troubling you.”
“I’m fine – please go on through,” she said as she held the door open.
Augusta walked in – to be created by the sight of Angela Timmins sat in one of the dining chairs, secured to the chair with lengths of rope and her ankles tied against one of the chair legs.
“Augusta, I’m sorry, we came home and….”
“Please do not move or call out – that really is a gun you feel in your back. Please, take off your coat and hand it to my companion Mr Small.”
With a shocked look, Augusta removed her greatcoat and handed it with her handbag to the small masked man who had appeared in front of her. She was wearing a cream twin set with pearls, a checked Arran skirt and short brown suede boots.
“My name is Mr Tall – do you mind if I call you Augusta?” the voice from behind said.
“Do I have a choice?” she replied.
“Not really, but it helps to be polite. Please, take a seat next to Angela there and place your hands in front of you.”
Augusta took the seat that was proffered, and got her first look at the masked man who had threatened her.
“Augusta, I am afraid we have to restrain you while we go about our business. Please, let your hands fall to your side.”
As she did so, Augusta watched Mr tall take a roll of silver duct tape, and coming behind her he taped her wrists to the back of the chair. This was followed by more tape around her chest and arms, until her upper body was firmly secured to the seat.
“I regret that I need to remove your boots – please accept my apologies.”
As he removed her boots and proceeded to tape her ankles together, Augusta turned to Angela.
“They were here when we came back from the church hall – they’re forcing Mary to let you in, but after that I don’t know what will happen.”
The tall robber finished taping Augusta’s lap and legs to the chair seat, and then stood up.
“Now, Augusta, if you would not mind telling me if anyone is at home today?”
“I do mind telling you!”
“Well, not to worry. Why don’t you two chat quietly until your next friend arrives?”
Outside the room, Mary was sat on the stairs with her hands on top of her head, while Mr Small stood in front of her with a pistol in his hand.
“Can you get free at all?” Angela whispered to Augusta.
“Not really – the tape’s far too tight. What about you?”
“He fixed my wrists to the back of the chair – no chance I’m afraid... Maybe when….”
A knock on the door prompted Mr Tall to put a finger to his lips. “Quiet, please ladies – your next guests are here.” Mr Small slipped into the room and watched through a crack in the door as Mary opened to the new visitors.
The door to the room opened, and Angela watched as two more members of the circle came in. Suzie Jones was a young woman in her mid-twenties, who was wearing a white smock top with spaghetti straps over the shoulders, grey slacks and trainers. Katie Pryce was a little older, and dressed in a cream jumper, brown skirt and knee length brown leather boots.
“Good morning, ladies” Mr Tall said as the two new arrivals entered the room. “Please hand your handbags to my associate here, and then take a set beside Angela and Augusta here.”
Mr Small took their bags and went out into the corridor again to watch over Mary. Ten minutes later, both Suzie and Katie were sat in chairs and taped in the same was as Augusta.
“What’s going on, Angela?” Suzie asked as the robber stood up from taping her ankles.
“I’m afraid it’s a robbery. I’m sorry you both walked in on this as well – hopefully they won’t be here much longer.”
Just as the tall masked intruder had finished with Katie, there was another knock on the door. Indicating the four bound victims should remain quiet, and joined by Mr Small, they all listened as the door was opened.
“Hello, Paula,” they heard Mary say, “you’re the last one to arrive. If you make your way into the living room, the others are waiting.”
The room door opened, and Paula Harrison walked in. She was wearing a grey poncho over her upper body, a gypsy style skirt and flat sandals.
“Sorry I’m late, girls, I hope I didn’t miss….. Oh dear.”
“Good morning, Paula. Will you please put your handbag on the table, and then take a seat here?” Mr Tall indicated one of the two unused seats as he said this.
Looking around her, Paula placed her large bag on the dining table and sat down next to Katie.
“It looks like I have been missing something – what’s going on?”
“Angela says this is a robbery, but up till now all the two men have said is that we should sit and talk.”
“Two men – I only see….” Paula was about to finish the sentence when she saw Mr Small enter the room with his hand around Mary’s arm. Angela’s daughter had her hands behind her back, and Paula realised that she must have her wrists tied together.
Mr Tall started to tape Paula to the dining room chair. As her wrists were tied to the back of the chair, Mary was sat down in the one vacant chair.
“I’m so sorry, ladies, but with my mother in here there was no way I could warn you what was happening…”
“Don’t worry about it, Mary,” Augusta said, “you had no choice. So far, at least, we haven’t been harmed.”
“Nor will you be, if you cooperate,” Mr Tall said as he finished taping Paula to the seat back, and went round to tape her ankles together. “We just want to be about our business and on our way, but this unexpected interruption opens and causes new opportunities and concerns. For now, just sit still.”
A few minutes later, both the masked intruders were standing in front of the bound ladies, who were sat in a semi-circle in the room.
“Now, we know Angela and Mary live here, but I have to let the rest of you know that my colleague here is going to visit each of your houses and avail himself of what he finds there. Mr Small, please come back as quickly as you can.”
Mr Small nodded, took the remaining bags from the dining room table and headed out of the door.
“Now, I have some business to attend to here, so I will ask Mary to accompany me. Please do not call out or try to raise the alarm, or it will be Angela’s daughter who suffers.”
“Just what do you expect us to do then?” Paula asked.
“Have your meeting of course. I’ll come back with Mary and some cold drinks in a little while, but you can still talk quietly amongst yourself. Mary – will you come with me please?”
Mary stood up and accompanied Mr Tall out of the room. The other five women looked at each other for a few minutes in silence.
“So,” Angela finally said, “shall we talk about the plans for the church fete?”
An hour later, the six women were talking amongst themselves in the room. As promised, when Mr Tall returned with Mary to the room he was carrying a tray of glasses and cold drinks, and he had helped each of the captives to have a drink.
He then proceeded to tie Mary to the chair she was sitting in, wrapping rope above and below her breasts and through the chair back to hold her firmly in place. Crossing her ankles, he then tied them together over the soft black suede, and secured them to the chair leg as he had done with her mother. More rope was used to tie her legs together above her knees.
“So, we are in agreement?” Augusta said as Mr Small returned to the room, with a bag in his hand. Handing it to Mr Tall, he left the room again to head upstairs.
“Well, I hope your meeting was productive, for now I am afraid we must end your discussion. Angela – we will start with you I think. Please open your mouth and allow us to gag you.”
“Once again, ladies, I am so sorry this has happened to you. Can you forgive Mary and I for all this trouble?” After saying this, Angela opened her mouth and Mr Tall placed a rolled up scarf he had taken from the bag inside.
“Bite down and close your mouth” he said, and as Angela did this he tore a strip of duct tape off the roll and smoothed it over her mouth.
“Of course we forgive you, Angela – this was not your fault.” Augusta then allowed herself to be gagged in a similar manner. In turn, each of the other ladies had a rolled up scarf placed in their mouth, followed by tape over their closed lips.
“Mary, thank you for cooperating with us, and I promise this will not be for long” Mr Tall said as he gagged the vicar’s daughter. Mr Small returned to the room and picked up the bags the two men had brought in.
“Now, Ladies, I am afraid that Mr Small and I must depart. The Gentlemen Robbers bid you adieu – may we never meet again!”
The six women sat and listened as the two men closed the door to the room behind them, and then as the front door closed. Looking at each other, both Suzie and Katie started to try and force their arms free from the tape around them and the chair back.
“Well, that was an interesting day,” Mr Small said as the two men set off.
“Yes – we don’t normally deal with that many captives at one time, so I’m glad you found all the duct tape. How were the other four houses?”
“Plenty of jewellery and other things,” Mr Small said as eh held up a bag stuffed with items. “Fortunately none of their families were at home, so I went and grabbed what I could quickly. I pushed their keys back through the door as I left.”
“Good – now let’s get a move on, we’ve an appointment to keep!”
“Good evening Major – how can I help you?”
Dusk was settling as Rev Timmins returned to the vicarage.
“Good evening, vicar,” Major Smyth-Wright replied, “I was just calling to see if my wife was here. Her car is still at the village hall, and they told me the women had come back here for their meeting”
“Is there no reply when you knock?”
“No – I find that very strange.”
“Me too – let me open the door.”
Rev Timmins opened the heavy oak door, and as the two men went into the hallway they heard noises coming from the dining room.
Rushing in, the two men were confronted by the sight of the six bound and gagged women sitting in a semi-circle, trying frantically to call out to them and with pleading looks in their eyes.
“Dear God,” the minister said, “Major, you had better call the police while I see to the women.”
He went over to Angela and pulled the tape away from her mouth. Seeing the scarf in her mouth, he pulled it out and she began to cough.
“Thank goodness you’re home, darling. Can you let the other women talk, and I’ll tell you what happened after you free us.”
Within an hour, the house was swarming with police, and the six women were been led out to ambulances. Strangely, however, the St Monica’s Ladies Circle emerged a much stronger and more tightly knit group than before, thus proving that from adversity good things can come.