Study in Grey
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten, and Children listen,
To hear sleigh bells in the snow….
The piano player was quietly playing away to accompany the singers, while the dancers completed their warm down after the final rehearsal for the Christmas Cracker show at the local theatre. Irene stretched over to one side, her hands above her head, as she finished the exercises following the dance troupe performance.
She was dressed for dancing as well – a grey short sleeved top with “Pineapple” written across the chest in pink lettering, a white sports top underneath, a grey ra-ra skirt and tights, and having cooled down she picked up a pair of baggy grey suede boots that she pulled over her feet. Looking over, she smiled at her cousin Anne, standing in the second row of the choir and singing her heart out.
“Irene – I’ve asked Anne to come home with us tonight for a drink. I hope you don’t mind.” The young girl turned round and saw her mother standing there.
“Why should I mind, mum?” she replied. Becky Woodson was in her early fifties, with dark hair that was greying at the temples and a distinguished look about her. She was the director of the show, and was normally to be seen fussing over little details.
“Well, I need to stay on here a little while longer, so you two need to go on ahead. I hope you don’t mind?”
“No, of course not – we have some things to sort out anyway. Are you finished now Anne?”
Anne walked over to join the two women. A lecturer at the local further education college, she was in her mid-twenties, her red hair pulled back in a pigtail and red-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. She was pulling on a great coat as she came over.
“Yeah – I’ll give you a lift home and then your mum will join us later, right?”
Becky nodded as Irene wrapped a large woollen scarf around her neck. “Right – we’ll see you later mum,” she called as they left the hall and made their way to the car.
“I presume you want to talk about presents for Mum,” Irene said as she fastened the seat belt. “Yeah – with your father away this year, I want to make sure everything is done for the Christmas day surprise.”
The two women talked as Anne drove back to the suburbs of the town, taking little notice of the traffic outside or the slight snowfall that was starting. Turning into the street where Becky and Irene lived, they negotiated their way past the cars that were parked in the roadway, as well as one or two transit vans that were also parked on the road.
“It’s busy out there tonight,” Becky said as she turned into the wide driveway in front of their house. “A lot of visitors around?”
“Guess so,” Irene said as she unbuckled the belt and opened the door. “Come on in and I’ll put the kettle on for a drink.” The two women walked up the pathway, their boots leaving clear marks in the softly falling snow, and chatting without a care in the world. They failed to notice the slight flicker in the drawn curtains as Irene unlocked the front door.
Opening the heavy oak door, Irene stood aside to let Anne in, before closing the door behind her. As she turned the light on, she looked at her cousin as she took off her great coat.
“What is it about the women in this family wearing grey?” she said as she looked on. Anne was wearing a light blue silk blouse over a grey roll neck sweater and grey slacks, the legs of which were tucked into knee length grey leather boots.
“Pass – you put the kettle on, while I go and put the light on in the living room,” she said. She watched Irene heading towards the kitchen, and then made her way into the living room. Turning the light on, she let out a gasp before a gloved hand was gently placed over her mouth.
“Do you want milk in your coffee?” Irene shouted through, but no answer was forthcoming. Shrugging, she placed a spoonful of instant coffee in each of two mugs, added milk and hot water, and stirred the cups. Picking them up, she made her way back down and used her back to open the room door, which stood slightly ajar.
“I said did you wan…..” she started to say, but the sight of Anne standing there with a tall man beside her stopped her dead in her tracks. Not so much the fact that there should have been no-one else in the room but Anne, rather the fact he was dressed in black, with a balaclava over his head that only showed his eyes and mouth, and a hand on Anne’s arm.
“Let me take those before you spill them,” Irene heard a voice say, and two gloved hands took the mugs of coffee out of her hands as she stood there, mutely staring at her cousin. Slowly turning her head, she saw another man standing there, placing the mugs on two coasters on the table. He too was dressed in black, but stood a good six inches smaller than the first gentleman. He truned round, and looked at Irene, a smile on his mouth.
“Would it be impolite,” the man standing next to Anne said, “to ask your name?”
“Irrrr – Irene” she finally said.
“Irene – and your name is?” he said looking at Anne.
“Well, Irene and Anne, my name is Mister Tall and this is Mister Small, and we are in the process of robbing your house. I presume you both live here?”
“no… NO!!” Anne finally shouted out. “I’m just visiting, so please, can I go now?”
“I’m afraid not, Anne,” Mister Tall said as he led her to a long settee and helped her to sit down. “I know you don’t live here – we have been watching the house for some time – but I wanted to hear you say that. I presume your mother will be returning from the church hall at some point?”
Irene nodded. “What are you going to do to us?”
“Well, I am afraid we have to ensure that you cannot get in our way, but otherwise I promise you that neither I nor Mister Small will cause you any harm. In return, I ask that you do as we ask when we ask. Are we in agreement?”
“I won’t cause you any trouble,” Irene said. “May I remove my scarf?”
“You may – if you pass it to Mister Small here, he will keep it safe. May I also ask you to give Mister Small your handbags as well – I would hate for you to be tempted to phone anybody while we are on the premises.”
Irene passed over to the smaller intruder her bag and scarf, and after placing them on the table eh retrieved Anne’s handbag from the hallway.
“Please, Irene, sit down and the two of you have your coffee. We are in no hurry, and I would hate for you to be cold on such a night. While you do that, we will take some steps to ensure that you will not get in our way.”
Irene sat down next to her cousin, as their coffee mugs were passed back to them. “What do you think they are going to do?” Anne asked as Irene took a sip from her cup, and the two masked men opened a rucksack that had been placed net to one of the chairs in the room.
“Mister Small is going to watch you while I make sure you are both comfortable. Please, do not do anything stupid, or else we may be forced to take other measures.” As he said this, Mister tall used a large knife to cut a length of rope into four parts, and Mister Small drew a pistol from his jacket pocket and sat down, watching the two girls.
Kneeling at Irene’s feet, Mister Tall took hold of her legs and placed her ankles together. He then took a length of rope, doubled it up and passed it around the suede, feeding the loose ends through the loop in the middle and pulling tightly so that her ankles were held firmly together. He passed the rope around three more times, then fed the loose ends through the top two layers, separated them and passed them between her legs so that the rope was cinched tight. He then tied the ends together behind her ankles.
Taking a second length, he passed it around her legs above her knees before tying them together in a similar manner. Irene could feel the rope tightening around her legs, but thanked herself that she was wearing the tights, as that minimised any possible marks on her legs.
“There – now just relax while I deal with Anne,” Mister Tall said as he stood up, but at that moment headlights swept the length of the closed curtains in the main room. “Ah – your mother is returning. Not a sound unless I say so,” Mister Tall said as he took up position behind the door, while Mister Small stood up and went behind the two girls, pistol in his hand.
Becky locked the car doors and walked up the path to the door. The snow was falling more heavily now, and lay over the marks of the two younger girls. Opening the door, she quickly walked in and closed the door behind her.
“Irene? Where are you dear?” she called out. “We’re in the front room, mum,” she heard her daughter replying; “Can you come in and join us please?”
Opening the door, she saw both Irene and Anne sitting on the couch, coffee mugs in their hands. She also saw the masked man standing behind them, and the ropes around her daughter’s ankles and legs.
“What’s going on,” she said in a hoarse whisper, but she soon realised somebody else was in the room when the door was closed behind her and a polite male voice answered “Please, Mrs Woodson, don’t make any sudden moves. Take off your coat and hand it to me, please.”
Unzipping her leather jacket, Becky slipped it off her shoulders, and held it and her handbag to one side. She saw a gloved hand take it, and then a taller gentleman walked round and stood in front of her.
“As we told these young ladies earlier, my name is Mister Tall and my friend is Mister Small. I must ask, Mrs Woodson that you do exactly as we tell you, and then we will all be finished so much more quickly. Do you understand?”
Becky slowly nodded, and then the taller man said something she wasn’t expecting. “Would you like a cup fo coffee?”
“Er…yes,” she said in astonishment.
“Mister Small, why don’t you take Anne into the kitchen and help her to bring Mrs Woodson a cup of coffee. Please, take a seat next to your daughter, then both of you sit quite still.”
“What’s going on, Irene?” Becky said as she sat next to her daughter.
“They say they’re robbing the house, mum, but so far all they’ve done is let us drink our coffee and tie my legs together. I think we’re in trouble later, but for now we’re not hurt.”
“I notice you have not started to put any Christmas decorations up, Mrs Woodson,” Mister Tall said as he took a seat where he could watch the two women. “I take it you are one of those people who prefer to do it nearer the date?”
“Yes,” Becky replied as Anne came back in with Mister Small and handed her a coffee mug.
“I do so agree – it’s much more special when you wait. Talking fo which – Mister Small, will you please take Anne and make her comfortable in a room upstairs, then come back and join us?”
Anne looked at Becky and Irene with fear in her eyes, but Mister Small quietly said “It will be all right – come with me,” and took her by the arm, collecting some rope as he did so. They both left the room, and Becky watched the two of them heading up the staircase.
“Now, however, I need to explain you what is going to happen. When Mister Small returns, he will take Irene with him, and you and I will tour the house to see what we can take. Be assured, she and Anne will be completely safe, and you will join them when we have finished. Until then, however, please drink your coffee. Perhaps, however, you can answer a question.”
The two women looked at each other, and Becky replied “What’s that?”
“Do all the women in your family always wear grey?”
Becky looked at Irene, and then at the clothes she was wearing. She had on a long sleeved grey jumper that went down over her upper legs, thick tights and knee length felt boots of grey, and a small scarf tied in her hair as a headband. Sitting there for a few minutes in silence, she began to quietly laugh.
“Just today, it seems,” she said before draining her mug. Mister Tall stood up, took the mugs from both women and placed them on the table next to their coats and handbags.
“I’m so glad you see the funny side of it, Mrs Woodson. Now, I must ask you to turn to one side, facing Irene, and place your hands behind your back.2
“A necessary precaution for when we go around the house,” Mister Tall replied as she held a length of rope in his hand. “Please, do as I ask.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Becky turned and faced her daughter. “Before you do that, may we have the radio on?”
“Of course,” Mister Tall said as he walked over and switched on the music centre. The sounds of Radio 2 filled the air as he places Becky’s crossed wrists together behind her back and started to wrap the rope around the cuffs of her sweater. Cinching the rope between her wrists, he tied the ends together out of the reach of her fingers, then wrapped a longer length around her waist and secured her wrists to the small of her back.
Mister Small walked back into the room as his partner straightened up and Becky turned back round. “Ah, excellent – Is Anne comfortable?”
“As can be expected,” he replied as she walked over to Irene and took her by the arm. “My apologies for the inconvenience, Irene, but could you please come with me now?”
“I’ll be all right, mum,” Irene called over her shoulder as she half jumped, half shuffled out fo the room, the ropes around her legs creaking as she did so and Mister Small holding her by the arm. Becky watched as the masked man started to help her daughter up the stairs, and then turned to Mister Tall.
“Can we get this over with please – I want you out of my house as soon as possible.”
“Of course, Mrs Woodson – shall we start down here?”
“In here,” Mister Small said to Irene as they reached the top of the stairs, and he opened the door to a box room. Anne raised her head and looked at Irene as she hopped into the room.
“Oh God,” Irene whispered as Mister Small helped her into the room, closing the door behind them.
The next half hour passed as Mister Tall went round the house with Becky, talking about the meaning fo Christmas as he selected various items and placed them in a bag. When they had finished downstairs, he led Becky up the staircase, where they saw Mister Small leaving the box room. “Will you kindly take care of things downstairs, Mister Small” the other mans said as he led Becky to the master bedroom. From there, she could hear the sound of running water as Mister Tall located and emptied her jewellery boxes into the bag.
“What is he doing downstairs,” she asked. “Washing the coffee mugs,” Mister Tall replied as she replaced the empty boxes where they had been found.
“Washing the… what sort of robbers are you?” she exclaimed. “Gentlemen ones,” Mister Tall replied as he took Becky by the arm and helped her to stand up. “Shall we join the others now?”
He led Becky down the hallway, and opened the box room door. Becky could now see what had been done to the other two women.
Anne was lying on her back on the floor, her head resting on a pillow as she turned it to look at the door. Her wrists were tied together in front of her, and her ankles and legs tied in the same way as Irene’s had been downstairs. As for Irene, she was lying next to Anne, but in her case on her stomach with her wrist crossed and tied behind her back. She also had her head on a pillow, and turned to look at her mother. While Anne had her wrists secured to the rope around her legs with a length fo cord, Irene’s legs were pulled up behind her, and her ankles secured to her wrists. Both young women had a length of Elastoplast stuck over their lips, and they made soft moaning noises as Becky was helped to step over them.
“Please, Mrs Woodson, sit down with yoru back against the wall,” Mister Tall said as he helped Becky to sit down, with her legs side by side in front of her. Taking some rope from the top of a box in the room, he quickly bound her ankles together, side by side over the felt boots, and then her legs together above her knees.
“I suppose I should thank you for not making a mess,” she said as he stood up and picked up a roll fo the sticking plaster. Mister Small came in, said “all set” and then started to walk back down the stairs.
“Ladies, thank you for your co-operation,” Mister Tall said as he tore a length of plaster off the roll and stuck it firmly over Becky’s mouth. “The Gentlemen Robbers would like to wish you a merry Christmas, and also bid you adieu. We will inform the authorities in due course of your predicament. May we never meet again?”
He closed the door on the three women as they silently stared at him, then descended the staircase and followed his partner out of the house, the radio still playing in the front room.
Two weeks later, the three were sitting talking as the crowds mingled after the show.
“We must have been a right sight, stuck in that room and all dressed in grey when the police came in,” Anne said.
“Yeah – but at least they kept their word about getting us help eventually,” Becky said as she took a sip. “At least the show went ahead without a hitch.”
They didn’t notice the two gentlemen leaving the hall, with a last glance back at the three women.
“Always nice to be appreciated, isn’t it?”
“It is – and it was a good show as well. Merry Christmas to you.”
“And to you, Mister Small, and to you.”