It was two in the morning when Jacob Reissman and his wife were woken up by the man shaking them. He turned on the light to be confronted by four armed men, wearing combat gear and black balaclava masks, pointing torches into the eyes of him and his wife.
“Get up both of you,” the gang leader said, and Jacob and Hannah pulled off the covers and stood up. One of the gang handed Mrs Reissman a dressing gown made from cream silk, which she put on over her long nightgown.
“Do as you’re told and you won’t get hurt, Mr Reissman. I want you to start getting dressed – and don’t make a sound. You don’t want to wake your daughters up. Not yet. Anyway.”
“What is the meaning of this,” the man asked.
“I said to get dressed, not to talk back,” the leader snarled. “Mrs Reissman put your hands behind your back and stand perfectly still.”
Hannah looked at her husband, a look of fear in her face, but he nodded and she did as the man asked. She stood still as rope was wrapped around her wrists, over the cuffs of her dressing gown, and they were tied together behind her back. Jacob started to pull on a pair of trousers and a shirt.
“Hurry up, Mr Reissman, we don’t have all night,” the leader had said, and he reached down to pull his socks on. “Jacob, please tell me we’re going to be all right,” his wife asked as he laced his shoes.
“You’ll be just fine, Mrs Reissman. Now, put your lips together and keep your mouth closed.”
Another of the gang stood in front of the woman, and placed a strip of brown sticking plaster over her mouth. Her husband stood up, and his wrists were tied together behind his back.
“Downstairs, quietly, both of you,” the gang leader said, and the four armed men led the bound couple down the main staircase of their house to the main room.
Jacob was pushed into an armchair, while Hannah was sat on a rug in the centre of the floor. Her ankles were placed together and tied together with rope, and her legs tied together above her knees. The front of her dressing gown came down around her legs while they were being bound, with the rope visible over her nightdress.
“Mr Reissman, we’re going to visit your store in a little while, but I want you to understand something. While we are doing this, one of us will be staying here watching your family, and if anything – ANYTHING does wrong, they will be killed. Do you understand?”
“Please, don’t hurt my girls; I’ll do whatever you ask.”
The other three gang members had left the room once their leader had started talking to him, and Hannah was the one noticed their eldest daughter, Mary, being brought into the room first. In her late twenties, she was wearing a short blue nightdress with thin straps over the shoulders. Her wrists were already bound behind her back, and Jacob could see the rope around her crossed arms as she was sat down next to her mother.
“Mum, Dad, what’s going on?” She asked, but before an answer could be given a strip of plaster had been placed over her mouth, and she was watching her ankles being crossed and bound.
As Mary’s legs were being tied together above her knees, Esther was brought into the room by a second gang member. She was 21, and wearing a pair of green nylon pyjamas. As with her sister, her hands had already been bound behind her back, but in her case a scarf had been stuffed into her mouth, the white edges of which were poking out.
“She wouldn’t keep quiet,” the gang member said as she was also sat on the floor, and her ankles and legs bound together. The scarf was then pushed right into her mouth, and plaster placed over her lips as well.
Rebecca was the last to be brought into the room. She was seventeen, and wearing white flannelette pyjamas. As with her sisters, her wrists had been bound behind her back, and she was sat down, her ankles and legs bound, and plaster placed over her mouth.
Jacob Reissman has been forced to watch while this was done, the gang leader sitting opposite him with a pistol planted in his side. As Rebecca’s legs were tied off, the leader said “Mt Reissman, I want your word that you will not try to escape, and that your family will also behave. Do I have your word?”
He nodded, and the leader stood up.
“You,” he said pointing to the last gang member who had brought Rebecca in, “make sure these four are properly secured, and then wait for our telephone call. When we call, disconnect the receiver and get out of here. Understand?”
He nodded, and the other three took Mr Reissman by the arms and left the room. The man watched the three girls, and their mother, quietly moaning and trying to get their wrists free, and then he picked up a bag and in front of the frightened women took out roll after roll of rope.
Some time later, the telephone rang in the Reissman residence. The masked man picked up the receiver, listened for a few minutes, then replaced the receiver and pulled the telephone out of the wall socket before returning to the main room.
Hannah and Rebecca were lying on their sides on the floor, facing each other. Rope had been tied around their upper bodies and chests, so that they were staring each other in the face. Their legs were also bound together, and their ankles had been pulled up and tied to their wrists in a hog tie.
Mary and Esther were sat back to back on the floor, rope around their arms and chests as well, and lengths passed between their arms and upper bodies to hold them more tightly together. They ruined and stared at the man, who laughed as he turned the lights off and left the four women bound and struggling on their floor.
That was at four am. When the assistant manager opened Reissman Diamond Merchants four hours later, he found Jacob Reissman bound to an office chair, gagged with tape, and the entire contents of their safe taken – an amount that came to over one million guineas in monetary value. The police arrived at the Reissman house an hour later to find the four women asleep, and sore, but otherwise unharmed from their ordeal.
Police investigated, but nothing ever came of the enquiry for two reasons. Firstly, the gang left no clues as to who they were or where they came from, and forensic sciences at the time were not as efficient as they are today.
Secondly, despite careful monitoring of the market both at home and abroad, there were no signs of the diamonds being sold either on the open market or the black market. They simply vanished – it was speculated at the time into the hands of a private collector.
The Reissman family recovered from the ordeal, and life slowly returned to normal. The girls went their separate ways, and Jacob retired from the firm ten years later. Sadly, Hannah passed away in 2002, and Jacob last year.
The gang were never caught……
“Well, Mrs Harker, I think that concludes our business. I want to thank you for thinking of me as your agent in the sale.”
“It was my pleasure, Mr Jacobs. You were recommended to em by a friend as someone who knows the antiques trade.”
Mary Harker took a last look at the bureau. “Are you sure you don’t want to keep hold of it, Mrs Harker? I know how much sentimental value can be attached to these older pieces, especially when they have been in the family for some time.”
Mary looked at John Jacobs, who had handled the sale of the last of her parent’s furniture. He was a man of medium build, greying hair at the temples and professionally dressed, and in every way the perfect antiques dealer that her friend had suggested.
“No,” she said as she shook her head, “I don’t have the room for it anyway. You will forward the balance of the amount to me?”
“Naturally, within the next thirty days once the various deposits have cleared my account. Good day, Mrs Harker.”
John stood up and extended his hand, which Mary grasped in a firm handshake before she turned and left the antiques shop. He watched her as she left, her camel pashmina wrapped around her neck and shoulders and the shine from her boots reflected as she walked down the street.
“A truly beautiful woman, that,” John thought to himself as he examined the bureau. “Were we both ten years younger, I wouldn’t have minded meeting her on a dark…. Hello, what’s this?”
Reaching into the back of a drawer, John felt what seemed to be a hidden spring. Depressing it, a small drawer came out from the centre part of the bureau, in which was an envelope with what seemed to be a letter inside.
“Now, I wonder what we have here,” he said to himself as he opened the envelope and drew out a number of sheets of paper. Sitting down, he poured himself a cup of tea and started to read through the sheets.
Half an hour later, he was still sat in the chair, his tea getting colder by his side and the sheets of paper lying in his lap. “The crafty devil – the crafty old devil,” he mumbled to himself as a chuckle began to come out of his mouth.
The telephone rang, and John stood up to go to the telephone, chuckling all the time.
“I wonder what happened to them in the end,” he said to himself as he lifted the receiver.
“Good afternoon, Jacobs Antiques.”
“Good afternoon, Cat.”
The voice that was coming over the lien was like dark velvet chocolate, deep and resonant, and a voice that expected if not commanded respect. John stopped chuckling, but kept a smile on his face.
“Good afternoon, Madame. This is a most unexpected pleasure – I presume we are still good for our appointment this evening.”
“Naturally, George is expecting you. I just called to ask if you could come a little later – some business I need to finish off first. Shall we say 7.30 instead of 7?”
“Not a problem at all, Madame. In return, I have a most interesting tale to tell you this evening – one that you may find to your advantage.”
“You intrigue me, Cat. Until tonight, then.”
“Until tonight, Madame. Good afternoon.”
John replaced the receiver, picked up the sheets of paper and began to read them again. Now that he was retired, this was out of his league – if it was even in his league when he worked as The Cat. For someone like…. Well, whatever, it was going to be a most interesting evening.
“Good Evening, George.”
“John – good to see you again. How’s business?”
“Can’t complain, can’t complain. I’m expected?”
“Of course – go straight up.”
John Jacobs entered the elevator that led to the penthouse suite of the building. As the door opened, he was greeted by a tall, elegantly dressed woman who extended a welcoming hand.
“John – it’s always a pleasure to see you. I’m so glad you were able to come tonight?”
“Madame, I would never miss these appointments unless I was completely unable to attend. I trust you are well?”
“Very well, thank you – a drink before dinner?”
“Thank you – Whiskey, please.”
Madame X always made a point of talking with, and keeping up relations with, those in her field who were of help and of importance. John Jacobs, in his younger days as The Cat, was a well known cat burglar and jewel thief who gained respect and notoriety on both sides of the legal fraternity. He also was one of the few people who knew Madame X as a younger person, and the two had a firm friendship shared in these regular dinners.
“So, John, you said you had something to show me?”
The two were reclining in armchairs, after their dinner, as Madame posed the question.
“Indeed I do. Tell me, do you remember the Reissman diamonds case?”
Madame sat in thought, swirling her brandy in her glass.
“Reissman, Reissman….. Oh yes, I remember now. I was only a young girl at the time. London diamond merchant, woken in the middle of the night by an armed gang who held his family hostage while they took him to his firm and emptied the safe. Thirty years ago, wasn’t it?”
“Indeed it was – a famous case at the time, mainly because of the amounts and also the fact they never found either the diamonds or the perpetrators.”
“You weren’t involved, were you?”
John laughed as he took a drink from his glass. “No, too big a job for me. Those of us around at the time did wonder who had pulled it off, but assumed it was a gang from out of town. It was a million guineas, after all.”
Madame nodded. “As you say, a lot of money, and the diamonds were never recovered. Why does this come back to your memory now? Have you been listening to James Bond soundtracks again?”
John laughed again as he drew an envelope from his pocket. “No, I haven’t. Jacob Reissman died a year or two back, and I’ve been helping his oldest daughter Mary dispose of some of the estate.”
Madame shot John a look, and he blushed. “Strictly legit, I assure you – I actually met Jacob some years later, and Mary turned to me to dispose of some of the furniture.
“At any rate, I was examining a bureau she brought me to sell when I found a secret drawer. Inside was this letter, addressed to Jacob Reissman and never opened. Curiosity got the better of me, and I opened it to have a look. The contents took me quite by surprise.”
“Read it for yourself.”
Madame removed several sheets of paper, and started to read.
My dear Jacob,
As I lie hear on my deathbed, I feel I have to tell you of the great burden and secret that I have carried with me for over twenty five years now. What I have to tell is for your eyes only, and what you choose to do with it is up to you. I will not be in a position for you to judge – Jahweh will already have done that.
Jacob, I have to tell you that it was I who arranged for the gang to rob you all those years ago. Had I known they way they were going to treat Hannah and the girls, I may have had second thoughts, but by the time I heard what had happened it was too late – the contents of our safe were in my possession, and the gang could easily let you know if I told anyone what had happened.
I had debts to pay – not terrible, but large enough that I needed to do something. Had I asked you for a loan, you would have asked what for, and then – well, my wife would no longer have been my wife. So, like a coward, I chose the easier option.
So the gang attacked you, and I still remember the look on your face as you described seeing Mary and the girls bound and gagged on the floor as you were taken away. I held a calm face, a concerned face, but even then I was trying to figure out how to dispose of so many diamonds.
A year later, we parted company, and I set up in the jewellery trade on my one. Guilt still gnawed at me, however, and I resolved to try and make up the pain I had caused in some way.
You never knew it, Jacob, but I tried to make amends over the years. I reclaimed the tiara I gave Mary for her wedding day, and replaced the gems with some of the diamonds. I also made sure that the necklace for Esther and the bracelets for Rebecca on their wedding days were made with your diamonds. The rest, after I paid the gang and settled my debts, were stored where no-one would ever find them unless they had the clues.
Those clues, Jacob, I give to you now. In the metal of each piece of jewellery is a number. Take the three numbers, and they describe where the remaining diamonds are hidden. Consider this my penance for my sin, Jacob, and remember me as I was, not as you may wish to now.
“How very interesting – did you know Blakeley?”
“Oh yes,” John said, “A rogue of the first order. I always wondered how he managed to clear his debts so quickly, and set up shop so well. Now I know.”
“So why didn’t Jacob open this letter?”
“Grief I imagine – Hannah had just died, and he was unwell.”
Madame X sat deep in thought. “A million guineas worth of diamonds thirty years ago – how much would they be worth now?”
John shook his head. “Priceless – but you’d need to get the clues first, and that’s a big job. I know where Mary is, but not the other two. Even then…..”
“Even then, I am glad you told me about this John. May I keep the letter – I may want to pursue this further.”
“I thought you might – even as a kid, you liked to unravel puzzles. Do me a favour though?”
“And what would that be?”
“Go gentle on the girls – the memories of that night are still raw for them thirty years on. I know how your girls sometimes operate.”
Madame nodded her head. “John, this will be an interesting exercise, but I think I would need to tread carefully – call in a few favours. If someone does have to visit them, I assure you it will be done with respect and care.
“By the way, how is that former apprentice of yours?”
“Oh, he’s doing well. I met with him last week when he and his partner were in town.”
John stood up and drained his glass. “Well, I must be on my way. Do let me know what you find out.”
Madame X stood and showed John to the lift door. “Of course I shall, and if any small antiques should appear in your store, you will know why?”
John kissed Madame X on the hand and entered the waiting lift.
“Until next time, Madame?”
“Until next time, Cat.”
As the lift doors closed, Madame X read again the letter. It was too good a prize not to go for, but the Cat had been right – her usual teams would not be the best choice. Not for now, anyway.
She sat at her desk and picked up the telephone, dialling a number as she did so.
“Good evening, Madame. What can I do for you?”
“I have a little problem to work through, Penelope. Have the researchers compile a dossier on Jacob Reissman, the diamond merchant, and his family within the next forty eight hour hours. And Penelope?”
“You may want to bring your address book tomorrow morning. We’re going to need a little extra help with this.”
“Well, I can see why you would not want to involve any of us in this particular problem, Madame.”
Penelope handed back the letter to Madame X as they both sat at the desk. She had spent the time since the telephone call two days previously collecting the information that had been requested, and she and her employer had spent the last hour reviewing the contents of the folder Penelope had presented.
“Indeed – if word got out that we had a possible clue to the whereabouts of this particular diamond collection, every major gang in the wider area would be trying to get the information off us.”
“So how do you propose we proceed – I presume you do want to retrieve them?”
Madame X took her cup of coffee and thoughtfully sipped it. “Did you bring your address book as I asked?”
Penelope took her handbag from the floor, and produced a small slim black book from within. “I brought it, but I fail to see how it may be of any help to us.”
“As I said, I think we may need to try a different approach to this problem. The first stage must be to retrieve the information from the three daughters, but in a way that does not attract attention. Where can we find the three now?”
Penelope picked up the sheaf of papers at the top and read through them.
“Mary Harker, as your contact says, is living in the east of the country. At the time of the robbery, she was visiting her parents while her husband looked after their six year old daughter. She now had a granddaughter, sixteen years old, who lives with her while she attends the local college.
“Esther Coutts is now 51, and lives in the north east. Works in the legal faculty of the university there as a lecturer, but since her divorce has lived alone.
“Rebecca is 48, married with a seventeen year old daughter. She and her family are based in the west of the country, where they have a small holding.
“All three lead unremarkable lives, really – and all have tried to put behind them that night.”
Madame X nodded, lost in thought.
“Penelope, I think it is only fair that we honour the Cat’s wishes and treat these three women with respect. We do, as I say, need to be circumspect however. Fortunately, I believe we can take care of things in a reasonable manner.
“You are aware of the Cat’s former apprentice?”
Penelope nodded. “We’ve met once or twice – why?”
“I think a trip into the country will benefit you – I want to use him and his partner to start this job off, and discretion would be the best way forward.”
The small pub on the banks of the meandering river wasn’t a particular favourite with the locals, but it did seem to be popular with those visiting the area. Going by the name of the Ropanga, if a stranger did pop in they would always get polite service, and the barman would always stop to chat a while.
If they enquired about the name, he would tell them the story of the river barges that used to go up and down the river, and how the most famous of them was the Ropanga, owned by a Romany family that made their fortune in transport. Often that was enough to satisfy their curiosity, especially given the presence of the barge on the sign that swung outside the main entrance.
If any of them could have seen the sign more closely, however, they would have seen that the crew of the barge were not exactly in control of the craft. If they were Romany, they would also have realised that the story was a load of absolute bovine excrement – but the Romanys never went into this particular pub. They knew what it was, and avoided it unless they had to do business there.
As more regular customers would have told you, right before they robbed you, there were letters missing from the pub name and sign. This was the Rope and Gag, the watering hole of choice for many of the criminal fraternity, and it was into this establishment that the young woman walked on this particular afternoon.
Removing her sunglasses, she made her way up to the bar and waited for the barmaid to serve her.
“Long time since you’ve been here, Penelope,” she said as she poured a half pint of lager for her.
“I’ve been busy, Thelma,” she said as she took a sip. “Business good?”
“Can’t complain. He said you may be calling in – he’s outside with his friend waiting for you.”
Penelope nodded, and taking her drink outside she looked around the tables. In a far corner two men were sat talking, and the smaller of the two waved when he looked up and saw her.
“Penny – long time no see. How are things in the more rarefied world you move in now?”
“Not bad, thanks for asking. This must be your business partner.”
The taller of the two gentlemen stood and took Penelope’s hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you in the last hour. Please, have a seat and we can talk.”
After they talked about nothing in particular for a half hour, they found themselves alone in the beer garden, Thelma having quietly moved everyone else inside. The smaller man looked round, and then leaned over.
“So, Penny, what’s going on? I would not have thought Madame X would have needed our help, and most of your work is out of our league.”
“Don’t flatter yourself – I heard about the country vicarage you both visited. Honestly – allowing them to have their meeting while you robbed their houses? No wonder you’re both known for your manners.”
The taller man chuckled. “Well, it was a difficult situation, but we did the best we could. Now, as my friend says, what does Madame X want with us?”
Penelope drew an envelope from her handbag and handed it to the two men. “She has heard that you plan to visit a particular area of the east coast in the next few days.
“No, never mind how she knows – she knows, and she has no problem with you doing that. She was wondering if you had included the address in that envelope on your list.”
The taller man looked at the piece of paper in the envelope, set it back down and nodded. “Is there some reason why she would want us not to?”
“No – it seems the sort of target you would select. It’s more a case of asking a favour of you – and your mentor” she said turning to the other man “would appreciate the favour as well.”
The two men looked at each other. “Go on then,” the taller one said, “we’re listening….”
“Penelope – do you have some news for me?”
“I have spoken to my contacts, and they will be only too happy to do as you ask.”
“Excellent – where will you go to next?”
“I think I need to talk to an old friend of mine – I will be in touch soon, Madame.”
The cold autumn sun was shining through the thin clouds as Mary Harker opened the front door of her house.
“Tracy, will you remember to do that order for me?” she called back through the door as she wrapped her pashmena around her shoulders.
“Don’t worry, Gran, I’ll do it before I get started.” A young female voice called out as Mary closed the door behind her and walked down the stone path, the heels of her black leather boots crunching into the stones as she did so. Climbing into the silver Daimler, she reversed the car out of the driveway and followed the road into town, not noticing the other cars and vans parked in the road as she went down.
“That’s Mary Harker I take it,” the taller of the two gentlemen sat in the grey transit van said as she drove past.
“That’s her – I spoke to Jack after our meeting. How long do you want to give the granddaughter?”
The tall man glanced at his watch. “Give her an hour, and if she hasn’t emerged we’ll move in.”
Forty five minutes later, a young dark haired girl ran down the path from the house and headed to the local bus stop. She was dressed in long grey top, black leggings and felt boots, with a grey scarf wrapped around her neck and matching gloves on her hands. The two men watched as she jumped on the bus and it receded into the distance.
“You realise there may be a safe to open?”
“Yes – which means we may have to wait a little while, but we can sort some other things out in the meantime.”
“Time for a bite to eat first?”
“I think so – there’s a café around the corner. We’ll go there first, and then get started.”
Mary drove back into the driveway of her house at about three pm, looking up at the already darkening sky. Locking the car doors, she walked briskly up to the door, let herself in and took her scarf off, leaving it on a hook just inside the door.
She looked at herself in the mirror, her greying hair falling around her face and the black jumper she was wearing showing some creases. Smoothing down the matching skirt, she walked into the front room and was grabbed from behind by a strong arm. A black gloved hand was placed gently, yet firmly over her mouth.
“Good afternoon, Mary”, a man of about five foot six in height said as he stood in front of her. He was dressed in black, with a sweater, trousers and a leather jacket, and a balaclava mask over his head. “My name is Mister Small, and the gentleman behind you is Mister Tall. We’ve been waiting for you, Mary – there is something we need you to do for us.”
Mary looked at the man in front of her, and then looked over her shoulder at the balaclava masked man standing behind her.
“Mister Tall is going to take his hand away, if you promise not to scream and to do what we say,” Mister Small said as he palmed the gun in his hand. “Will you do that for us?”
She thought for a moment and nodded. Mister Tall took his hand away, but kept hold of Mary’s arm.
“What do you want?” She asked. Mister Small smiled, and replied “We want your jewellery, your money, anything we can take, Mary. However, we do not want to deprive you of anything that is of true value to you, or that we cannot sell on – so we need your help to assess your things. In return, you have my word that neither I nor my friend here will harm you.”
“I see – and what if my granddaughter comes home while you are here?”
“Actually,” Mister Small said as he closed the door behind them, “We fully expect her to arrive at any moment now. We have been watching your house and the two of you for a little while now, and we know the basics of your routine. Mary, I must ask that if she does return, you do not raise the alarm. Do I have your word?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No – not really. Also, I should tell you that I have disabled your alarm and telephone, so you will not be able to call for help. Mister Tall?”
“Mary, we have found your safe, but to avoid mess we would like you to give us the combination. Please, come with me to the study so that I can check the contents.”
Mister Tall opened the door, and led Mary down the corridor to the rear study. There, she saw that he had uncovered the wall safe, and carefully moved the portrait of her mother and father that hung over it to one side.
“I should thank you for being careful,” she said, and Mister Tall smiled. “Mary, we always try to be careful. Now,” he said as he showed Mary the large knife he had drawn from his pocket, “the combination please.”
“Very well then, it’s…” Before Mary could continue, the front door opened and Mister Tall placed his hand back over her mouth.
“Gran, it’s me. Why are the curtains closed out front?” They heard Tracy say, followed by a muffled gasp.
“Mister Small will take care of her. Now, Mary, the combination if you please.”
Mary looked towards the door. “I assure you, Mary, that Mister Small will keep his promises. We pride ourselves on that.”
“Very well then,” she muttered as she turned back to face the masked man. “Here’s the combination,”
Ten minutes later, Mister Tall was removing cases from the safe, and examining the contents with care. Mary was sat in a chair at the desk; her wrists bound together in front of her and lay in her lap.
“You have some exquisite jewellery here, Mary. I commend you on your good taste, and that of your husband.”
“I wish he was here now,” she said as she twisted her wrists around.
“Is he at work at the moment?”
“No – he died four years ago. Heart attack.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mary. You must miss him a great deal.”
“You’re a very strange robber, to be so concerned about me.”
“Just because I and Mister Small are robbers, does not mean we are insensitive. Are these,” he said holding up a set of pearls, “of truly sentimental value to you?”
Mary shook her head, and Mister Tall deposited the string in a velvet sack on the desk. Opening a small case, he whistled as eh saw the contents.
“Now this, Mary, is truly exquisite,” he said as he took out a tiara, made of silver and encrusted with diamonds. “This must have been for a very special occasion.”
For the first time, Mary looked shocked as he handled the item in his gloved hands. “Please, not that – that is from my wedding outfit. A gift from a friend of my father’s – and it’s a family heirloom. He took it some years later and added the diamonds to the headpiece. My daughter wore it for her wedding, and I want my granddaughter to wear it too.”
Mister Tall examined the inside of the tiara with great interest. “I can see that the inscription reads ‘To Mary and Jeremy from Oscar.’ This must mean more than the monetary value to you, Mary.”
She nodded and let her head drop. “I don’t care what else you take, but please leave the tiara.”
Mister Tall examined the piece closely, then placed it back in the box and closed it, before returning the box to the safe, along with other empty boxes. Closing the door, he said “We are not so mercenary as to take the tiara, Mary. We could not sell it, and the loss of it would be too much for you.
“Come – let us rejoin your granddaughter and see how she is doing.”
As Mister Tall led Mary back into the front room, they found Mister Small sitting talking to Tracy. She had taken off the scarf and gloves she had been wearing, and was sat opposite the masked man with her hands behind her head. She looked up and saw her grandmother, before saying “Gran, what’s going on?”
“It appears that I am being robbed, Tracy. It’s not the first time this has happened to me, so I know what to do. Are you hurt?”
“I promised you we would not harm you or your granddaughter, Mary,” Mister Small said as he stood up. “We were talking about the latest album from the Kaiser Chiefs, actually. I complement you on your taste, Tracy. Mister Tall, have you finished downstairs.”
Mister Tall looked up, pocketing a piece of paper he had been writing on. “I think so, Mister Small. Shall we make our way upstairs now?”
“Yes, I think that would be an excellent idea, Mister Tall, Ladies, if you would come with us please?”
“Are you going to tie me up as well,” Tracy said as she saw how Mary’s wrists were held together in front of her.
“All in good time, Tracy. Please, make your way up the staircase between me and Mister Small.”
As they reached the landing, Mister Tall looked in each of the doors. “This must be Tracy’s room – this is the main bedroom – toilet – ah, spare room. That should be perfect for our needs, Mister Small.”
“Excellent. Mary, you will come with me. Tracy, you will go with Mister Small while we check your rooms, and we will meet in this spare room afterwards.”
Mister Tall led Tracy into her room, which was neat, tidy but obviously one used by an Arts student. “Sit down on the bed, with your hands on your head Tracy, and you can tell me where you keep your jewellery.”
At the same time, Mister Small led Mary into the master bedroom, and sat her down on the bed.
“If I untie your hands, will you sit still?” He asked, and Mary nodded. A few minutes later, she was rubbing her wrists while he searched carefully through the drawers and cupboards for additional items to take.
“May I ask a question?” Mary said as Mister Small examined the contents of a small box hidden in a drawer.
“Are you two the so-called Gentlemen Robbers?”
“Ah – I see our reputation precedes us. Yes, Mary, we are, and if you have heard of us you should know that we keep our word.”
Mary nodded. “But you’re still going to tie us up before you go, aren’t you?”
“Regretfully, yes – but we will inform the authorities when we have had a chance to go a ways ahead.”
“I see – then I need to ask a favour of you.”
“And that is?”
“Please, put the two of us in here, on the bed. The box room is stuffy, and Tracy is scared enough as it is.”
Mister Small turned and looked at the women, as she ran her hands through her greying hair. “As you wish then Mary. Is there anywhere else here I should look?”
The older woman shook her head. “Well then, perhaps you should make yourself comfortable, and we will begin.” Saying this, he drew a number of lengths of white rope out of his pocket.
Tracy was standing up, looking over her shoulder as Mister Tall lashed her wrists together behind her back, when there was a knock on the door and Mister Small entered.
“A small change of plan, Mister Tall, at Mary’s request. Would you please bring Tracy through to the main bedroom?”
“Of course,” Mister Tall said as he knotted off the rope out of reach of her fingers. “After you Tracy and we will rejoin your grandmother.”
The three walked down the corridor into the main bedroom. Mary was lying on her side on the bed, her head supported by the pillows. Her wrists were bound together behind her back with rope, and her elbows pulled together as well. Her ankles had been crossed and tied together over her black boots, and there was rope above and below her knees. All the ropes were cinched to provide additional security.
“Gran?” Tracy called out, and Mary rolled over onto her other side to look at her granddaughter. “It’s all right, Tracy, I’m fine. I want us to be together when they go, so I asked them to bring you in here. I see the taller man has started to bind you up just as tightly as I am.”
Tracy looked down in astonishment – she hadn’t even realised that Mister Tall had started to wrap rope around her arms and chest, above and below her breasts, until then as he passed the rope around her neck and shoulders as well.
“Just remember to stay calm, Tracy – unlike when this first happened to me, these two are showing us a little respect.”
“Please, Tracy, sit down on the edge of the bed,” Mister Tall said, and as she did so he crossed her ankles and began to wrap rope around the felt of her boots. A few minutes later, he stood up as Tracy looked at the ropes above and below her own knees.
“Let me help you to lie down,” Mister Small said, and with his help Tracy lay down so that she was facing her grandmother.
“How can you stay so calm, Gran?” she asked as Mister Tall and Mister Small between them passed a rope under the two women at their waists and pulled it tightly.
“Thirty years ago, Tracy, I and my family were held at gunpoint, bound, tape gagged and robbed, and that scared me for a long time. These two have been so gentle, that that seems like a distant memory now, and I can cope with this much better.”
As they spoke, the rope around their waists was led down to around the two women’s thighs, and then their calves before being tied off, so that they were held together fairly tightly.
“Now, Mary, Tracy, I am afraid we must silence you for a while. Just try to breath through your nose, and you will be fine. Mary, if you would be so kind?”
“We’ll talk later, Tracy,” Mary said, and then she allowed Mister Small to push a wadded up handkerchief into her mouth, before placing the knot he had made in a rolled up green scarf into her mouth and tying it off tightly at the base of her neck. Tracy allowed Mister Tall to do the same to her, although in her case it was a paisley bandana that they used.
“Ladies, it has been a pleasure, but we must leave now. The Gentlemen Robbers bid you adieu – may we never meet again!”
The two masked men picked up their bags, and the two women listened to the sound of footsteps heading down the stairway, and the front door closing. Tracy looked at her grandmother, who nodded and let her head rest back onto the pillow, as an indication that Tracy should do the same.
Penelope was having a cup of coffee when the telephone rang.
“Hi Penny – I have a message for you.”
“Hello – how was Mary Harker?”
“A charming woman, with exquisite taste. We did leave a few things behind, but she and her granddaughter were the most model of hosts.”
“Excellent – so what do you have for me?”
“My friend said the tiara was a most beautiful piece – and he found a code inscribed next to the hallmark, would you like the message?”
“One minute,” Penelope said as she picked up a piece of paper and a pen. “Go ahead.”
“53 19 59”
“That’s it – I hope your boss finds it of use.”
“Thanks mate – I’ll see you for a drink soon.”
Replacing the receiver, Penelope sat down and looked at the blonde haired woman who was in a seat opposite her.
“Part of this project you’re working on?” She asked as she took a sip from her cup.
“In a way – it’s good to see you again anyway. Since I left, you seem to have gone from strength to strength.”
“Thank you,” the blonde woman replied. “So why look me up now?”
“Believe it or not, I have a tip off for you. But, in return for this, I need a favour.”
“How intriguing – please, do go on.”
Esther Coutts was busy preparing the snacks for her bridge club that night. Since her divorce and moving to take up the position she held at the university, she had limited herself to a few close friends, and her weekly Bridge night was one of the highlights.
She placed the tray on the side table and looked round to make sure the room was in an acceptable state. Pulling on the sleeve of her white blouse, she checked the time on her watch.
“Seven o’clock – they’ll be here soon,” she said to herself as she went into the hallway and looked in the mirror. She was wearing a brown waistcoat and long brown suede skirt today, and with her light brown hair starting to grey she felt she looked – well, passable for someone who had just turned fifty.
The telephone rang, and Esther picked up the receiver.
“Oh, Mary. How are you?
“You’re joking – did they take much? My poor darling, you must have been terrified.
“That is surprising, but at least the tiara will be safe for Tracy. Listen – why don’t the two of you come up for the weekend? It’ll be good to see you.
“Of course it’s all right. I’ll sort things out with you later – you just look after each other.
“All right, Mary – ‘bye for now.”
Replacing the receiver, Esther went back to checking her face in the mirror. She turned to pick up her handbag, and removing a stick of red lipstick from it she went to add the make up to her lips.
As she raised the stick up, she noticed something in the corner of the mirror. Behind her was a ghostly apparition – a white face that just seemed to float there, and it was joined by two more.
Turning slowly round, Esther looked at the three new arrivals. Dressed entirely in grey, their heads covered and their faces masked by white doll masks, they looked at Esther as the one at the front raised a small pistol and pointed it at her.
“So you had a word with your former team mates?”
Madame X and Penelope were sat in the office, drinking coffee and discussing the current state of their plan.
“Yes, they were very grateful for the tip off, and they will pass on anything they find.”
Madame X looked at the message Penelope had passed on.
“Three numbers - any idea what they mean?”
“Not yet, no – but let’s see what they find at Esther’s house tonight. Have you any thoughts about the third sister?”
“Difficult, given she lives so far out of the way, but I may have a solution. Have you seen the paper today?”
“No – why?”
Madame passed Penelope a copy of the Daily News, and she read the headline.
DARING RAID ON BANK – FAMILY RELEASED AFTER FORCED TO OPEN SAFE
Police are investigating a raid on Barker’s Bank last night, where a gang of armed men and one women kidnapped the manageress and her daughter and forced her to open the safe of the branch. In a related incident, a manager of another branch of the same bank was taken from his home and his wife held hostage, and police believe the two may be linked.
Penelope put the paper down. “Is George Simpson involved in this somehow?”
Madame nodded. “I’ve known him for years, and I wondered how long it would take for him to do this kind of raid again. He will, however, need to lie low after this. I helped him to take care of his takings with the jewellery store, and I think I owe him a rest.”
Penelope smiled. “How are you going to point him in that direction?”
In response, Madame picked up the telephone and dialled a number.
“Good morning, George. I trust you are well?
“I cannot complain, business is profitable and I am looking into a few new opportunities. I see in the papers today that you have been a busy man again as well.
“Well, I suspect you need to lie low for a while, and I wondered if you had considered spending a few days in the country – somewhere where your exploits are less well known.
“There is a farmhouse in the west that holds some information that I would like to obtain. I don’t want it stolen – just found. I know you are very good at entertaining guests when you call on them – so I believe you will not have a problem with staying there for a few days.
“We? I was under the impression you travelled alone. Who are you planning to take with you, George?
“Well, that is a reference I cannot refuse. I have heard good things of her, and look forward to her joining my team as a trainee. Head in that direction, and call me tomorrow. I will give you the details then.
“Thank you, George. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Madame replaced the receiver, and smiled over at Penelope.
“It appears we will have a new recruit joining us in a few days. That is good timing – since Dominique had to leave rather suddenly, we have needed someone new.”
“So he will do the job?”
“Of course – I owe him too much. Now, we can do nothing until tomorrow – let’s look at our other work.”
Denise Howe pulled her coat tight around her as the cold northern wind blew at her. She walked quickly up the path and knocked on Esther’s door.
The heavy door opened, and Denise walked in.
“It’s parky out there, Esther. I could use a…..”
Esther was standing in the hallway, her arms pinned behind her back and rope passing around her chest, holding her waistcoat against her blouse. Behind her stood a woman dressed in grey from heads to foot, with a white doll mask over the face part of her hood, with a gun against Esther.
“I’m sorry, Denise,” she cried as Denise’s coat was removed by unseen hands and she felt rope being passed around the neck and shoulders of her blue cashmere jumper, then around her arms as they were pulled behind her back, “I’m so very sorry.”
“What’s going on Esther?” Denise asked as she felt her wrists being bound together. Looking over her shoulder, she could see the rope wrapped around her arms and wrists, as the masked woman continued to take it around her chest.
“They’re robbing me, and when I said people were coming they just waited for you to arrive. They’ll show you.”
The two women were pushed into the main room, where a third of the white masked women was standing over two others. One of the women was wearing a white jumper with a large collar and a black leather belt around her waist, beige trousers and short black leather boots. The other was wearing a brown floral print dress and suede bootees. Both had their upper body bound the same way as Denise and Esther, as well as their ankles and legs bound with a single length of rope each. A rolled up scarf was tied tightly into the mouth of each woman, and by the sounds they were making something else was being held into place under the gag as well.
“Who are they,” Denise asked as she was pushed to the floor by two of the women.
“I have no idea – they haven’t said a word since they arrived. When Jo and Kay came in, they just grabbed them and tied them up. I don’t know what they want or why they’re here – just that they want to hold us hostage.”
Esther watched as one of the masked intruders took a long length of rough rope, doubled it up and wrapped it around Denise’s leg’s above her knees and pulled tight, drawing the fabric of her skirt around her legs as she did so. Passing it between her legs, the grey lady took the rope down to her ankles and lashed them together, knotting it behind her ankles when finished.
“Haven’t you read the papers, Esther – this is the China Doll Gang,” Denise said before a rolled up cloth was pushed into her mouth, followed by a scarf which was pulled in and knotted at the base of her neck.
As Esther was led out of the room by two of the Dolls, the third stayed behind to watch the three women struggling on the floor.
The two Dolls took Esther into her bedroom, and sat her down on the edge of the large double bed.
“Please, won’t you say something,” she pleaded with them, but the white faced invaders merely shook their heads. One of them cocked her head to her side, and placed a gloved finger to the lips of her mask, indicating that they wanted her to be quiet.
“Are my friends going to be all right,” Esther moaned as one of the Dolls lifted the hem of her skirt up to reveal the patent leather boots she was wearing. Exposing her knees, the Doll took a length of long brown rope, doubled it up and passed it around Esther’s legs above them, pulling it tightly and cinching the rope round between her legs, before bringing it down and wrapping it around her ankles.
As this was happening, the other Doll was searching through Esther’s cupboards, and retrieved a large black box with a velvet outer cover. Placing it gently on the dressing table, she produced from somewhere a set of lock tools and began to skilfully open the box.
“Please, take what you want, but leave me and my friends alone,” Esther pleaded as the Doll opened the box, and started to take out an assortment of jewellery cases. Opening each in turn, she placed the contents in a large silk sack that she produced; making sure each item was wrapped before it was placed in.
Esther watched this happening, without saying another word, until the Doll produced from the bottom of the case a large, flat red box. Opening it, she produced a stunning necklace made from silver. It had a thin flat band that went around the neck, and at the front was a silver tongue which was encrusted with diamonds. The light from the ceiling lamp reflected in the gems, causing a multicoloured hue to cover the white mask as the Doll examined it carefully.
Esther shook, not with fear but with rage, as the Doll placed the necklace back into the box and added it to the contents of her sack. It may have been a reminder of her failed marriage, but it also was an heirloom, a gift from a friend of her father, and she didn’t want to lose it.
Closing the larger black box, the two Dolls continued to search the room for anything else they could take. From downstairs, Esther could hear muffled cries, and she guessed that her friends were also been robbed by the remaining gang member.
Finally, one of the Dolls collected the sack and left the room.
“What are you going to do with me now,” Esther asked the remaining gang member. She turned and looked at the woman, her head cocked to one side, and Esther tried to see if she could see anything behind that mask.
Finally, the Doll went to a drawer and took out two scarves. One was a small turquoise square that Esther sometimes used to hold her hair back, while the other was a larger paisley patterned scarf made from cotton.
Walking back to the bed, the Doll rolled up the smaller square into a ball and held it in front of Esther’s mouth. Realising she had no choice, she opened wide and allowed the intruder to place the scarf in her mouth, before she took the rolled up cotton square and pulled it tightly into Esther’s mouth, tying it off at the base of her neck. Gently helping Esther to lie on her side, the Doll closed the bedroom door to and left the bound and gagged woman on her own.
She lay there, listening as the rear door of the house was opened and closed, and a half hour passed before she was sure they had left. Sounds came from downstairs of the three other women trying to talk to each other, but they were muffled and made very little sense. Esther started to try and loosen her ropes, but they had been in too tight and complicated a manner for her to do more than helplessly wriggle her fingers about.
Eventually, she decided to try and take the gag off her mouth. Bringing herself up to a seated position, she swung her legs round and sat at the edge of the bed. On the table by her bed were a number of books, and trapped under the pile was a large pen that she sometimes used to make notes at night. It was a slim chance, but it was all she had.
Sliding off the bed so that she was sitting on the floor, she shuffled over to where the fat barrel of the pen was protruding, and then with some difficulty managed to get into a kneeling position. Bringing her head down, she gently eased the barrel under the side of her gag, so that it pressed against her cheek. Slowly, slowly, she twisted her head round, keeping the pen in place, and managed to get it so that it was gently easing the rolled up cotton from her mouth. Eventually, she managed to get it out enough to wriggle it down over chin, and spit out the smaller cloth.
Esther licked her lips and moved her jaw around in order to get some feeling back, then she manoeuvred herself back into a seated position and shuffled over to the door. Although the Doll had closed it to, it had not shut properly, so Esther managed to pull it open with her feet before she shuffled her way along the landing and to the top of the stairs.
“Denise, I’m coming,” she called down and the raised grunts of the other three women gave her some encouragement. Through the open door of the front room, Denise could see Esther bumping down, a stair at a time, and finally managing to stand up as she reached the foot of the stairs.
“I’m going to call the police,” she called through as she hopped to the telephone table, and removed the handset. Looking over her shoulder, she dialled the emergency services and put her mouth to the head set.
“Hello? Police please – I’ve been robbed, and I and three of my friends have been tied up. Please, get here as quickly as you can.”
Hopping into the main room, she found Denise Struggling to free her hands, while the other two were lying on the floor, one trying to remove the gag from the other. Using her fingers, Esther eased the scarf out of Denise’s mouth, and pulled the smaller rag out.
“Who on earth are the China Doll Gang?” Esther asked as Denise moved her jaw from side to side.
“They were,” Denise finally said, “and the police know all about them.”
“Special delivery for you, Penelope,” George said as she walked out of the lift, her heels clacking on the floor.
“Thank you George,” she said as she signed the courier’s notepad, and held the flat, rectangular package in her hand. “Do let me know when Madame’s guest arrives.”
George nodded as she went back to the lift, her body moving gracefully in the Armani skirt and jacket. Penelope returned to the penthouse where Madame X was sat at her desk.
“I take it this is from your contacts,” she said as Penelope opened the package and drew forth a red case. Opening it, the two women admired the ornate necklace that was inside. There was a note accompanying it.”
We thank you for alerting us to this target, and in return we offer you the item we believe you were seeking.
The China Doll Gang
Turning over the tongue, Penelope looked closely at the markings on the rear.
“Hallmark…. Dedication from the giver…. And here we are.
6 14 56 “
“Three more numbers,” Madame X commented as she wrote them down. “We need to start figuring out their meaning. Meanwhile, Penelope, I think we need to arrange for this piece to be recovered. Any suggestions?”
“Well, we have been trying to find a way to get the Parker girls to lay low. Perhaps arranging for this to be found at the address of one of them?”
Madame X smiled. “See to it Penelope. I think those young ladies need to be taught a lesson. For now, we must contemplate the meaning of both sets of numbers and await the third piece of information.”
The warm autumnal sun shone down on the rolling hills as Charlotte Dewsbury fed the chickens in their pen. She’d just waved off her father as he left for a few days on business, and her mother was busy preparing dinner. Throwing the last of the seed over, she placed the bucket by the fence and walked back into the house, removing her Wellington boots as she did so.
“When are your friends going to arrive?” Rebecca called to her as she walked past the kitchen door.
“Tomorrow morning, Mum,” she called back as she picked up the television remote and turned the news on.
“Police are still hunting for George Simpson, the bank robber who with his gang raided a branch of Barker’s Bank two days ago. He is believed to be travelling with a younger woman, who is…..”
A sharp knock on the door came, and Charlotte turned the sound down on the television. Making her way to the door, she opened it no a young woman in her early twenties, dressed in a white jumper, faded jeans and brown Uggh boots.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” she said, “but my car has broken down and I can’t get a signal on my mobile phone. Do you have a land line I could use to make a call?”
“Sure, come in,” Charlotte said as she held the door open, and the girl thanked her. “The telephone is over there,” she said as she went back to the room. On the television screen was a photo fit picture of…. Well, of the woman she had just let in. Charlotte turned the volume back up.
“Police warn members of the public that if they see either George Simpson or Lily Black, they are not to approach them, but call the police immediately.”
“Not the best likeness of me, is it?” Charlotte turned and saw the girl standing there, a smile on her face and a pistol pointed at the girl.
“MUM!!!” Charlottes screamed, but she was even more scared when Rebecca was pushed into the corridor by a small, slightly portly man with grey hair, who had gun in her mother’s back.
“Nicely done, Lily,” the man said. “Now, why don’t we all sit down and have a nice little chat.”
Charlotte was running down a dark passageway, with doors on either side dimly lit from behind, so that the shadows from within the rooms danced over the opaque glass panels. She knew something was behind her, but was too scared to look round and see what was making the footfalls she could hear.
At the end of the corridor was a solid door, with a crack of light on either side. From behind it, she could hear her mother’s voice calling out to her, pleading for help. As she approached, she reached out to grasp the handle, but something grabbed hold of her wrist. Charlotte was pulled round, and she screamed as the face appeared before her…
The dim light of dawn was starting to come through the curtains as Charlotte opened her eyes. For a moment she wondered if someone still had her wrist in a grasp, but as her eyes came into focus she looked down and saw the tape that was holding her wrists to the arms of the chair. Looking over, she saw her mother still sleeping on the long couch, her hands tied in front of her with washing line that had also been used to tie her ankles together, and in the arm chair the young woman looking at both of them with the pistol on her lap.
“Damn,” she said to herself, “I had hoped that was a bad dream yesterday…..”
“Ladies, we will be staying with you for a couple of days, and so long as you do exactly what we tell you then nothing will happen beyond a little inconvenience. My name is George, and this is Lily, but of course you know that, don’t you?”
Rebecca and Charlotte were sat on the long couch, holding each other while George Simpson sat in an armchair, and his young niece Lily pulled the curtains across the main windows. Charlotte had just placed a hot casserole which she had removed from the oven onto a chopping board when she had been grabbed from behind and told to shut up. She had dropped the oven gloves she had been wearing, and turned round to see a man with greying hair standing there, with a gun in his hand and a slight smile on his face.
“This way,” he had said to Rebecca, and he had pushed her into the corridor, where she saw Charlotte with a young girl, also armed, standing behind her. Mother and daughter were led back into the living room, where the two intruders were now watching them.
“What do you want with us?” Rebecca asked, and the man smiled.
“We just need a place to lie low for a few days, and this seems isolated enough for our purposes. Don’t worry – you can still get the chores done and feed the animals. It’s just that Lily and I will be with you every step of the way from now on, and you must do what we tell you. Otherwise, you spend the next few days trussed up like one of those chickens out there ready for the oven, and gagged so tightly you won’t be able to say anything. Understand?”
“Mum, I’m scared,” Charlotte cried, and Rebecca held her in her arms.
“It’s all right, Charlotte, let’s just do as they say and get this over with.”
“Your daughter’s name is Charlotte?” George enquired. “If we’re going to stay here, what can I call you?”
“My name is Rebecca Waterson, not that it’s any of your business.”
George and Lily exchanged glances, and the young woman sat down in the other armchair.
“Well, Rebecca, that casserole you made smelt delicious. Why don’t you go with Lily and put some out for all four of us. Once, we’ve eaten, we’ll see if we can’t sort out some arrangements for tonight.”
The four of them had eaten, and then sat together watching a movie on the television. Once that had ended, the one the man had called Lily had sat Charlotte in the old chair, and using a roll of duct tape from the garage had taped her wrists firmly to the arms of the chair. While this was happening, the man was tying Rebecca’s hands and feet with a spare length of washing line he had found, as she lay on the couch. Before exhaustion finally led her to sleep, she had watched the two intruders sitting at the table, talking in low voices…..
“Good morning,” Lily said as Charlotte raised her head. “I’m glad you managed to get some sleep.”
“Where’s your father,” Charlotte asked with a hint of anger in her voice.
“My fat…. George is upstairs, asleep in your spare bedroom. It looked as if you were expecting guests – perhaps you can tell me if you are or not?”
“No.” Charlotte lied, “We always keep the spare bed made up. Are you going to keep us like this all day as well?”
“Gracious no,” Lily smiled, “once George is awake I’ll take you to freshen up and change. Once that’s done, I’ll take your mother to do the same, and then you can get on with anything you planned to do around the house today. Only the house, mind you – if you had plans to go anywhere else or do anything else, I suggest you cancel them before the morning goes too far.”
Rebecca began to stir on the couch. She had worn a long peasant skirt and short sleeved top the previous day, so the rope was digging a little into her bare wrists and ankles as she twisted them round. Opening her eyes, she saw Lily and Charlotte sitting there, and a sigh escaped her lips.
“You’re still here then?” she asked as the door opened and George walked in.
“Yes, we’re still here. Lily, why don’t you take Charlotte to freshen up and change while I have a word with her mother?”
Standing up, Lily used a penknife to cut the tape away from Charlotte’s wrists, as well as the tape that was around her ankles, and helped her stand up. “I’ll be all right, mum,” she said as Rebecca watched the two girls leave the room, Lily holding Charlotte by the arm.
“Now, Rebecca,” George said as he sat in the seat Lily had been in, “Once your daughter has finished, I’ll untie you and Lily will take you to get washed and changed. After that, I suggest we all have breakfast, and you can tell me what you need to do today.”
“Will you be leaving today?”
“No, I think we need a couple of more days, but don’t worry – we’re not going to hurt you unless you do something stupid.”
Rebecca let her head fall back onto the cushion it had been laying on, a look of concern passing over her face. Charlotte’s friends had been due to arrive today – should she say anything about that or not?
Twenty minutes later, Charlotte walked back into the room. She was wearing a white roll neck sweater, dark leggings and long black socks.
“Are you all right, Mum,” she asked as Lily walked over and started to untie Rebecca.
“I’m fine, Charlotte,” she said as she sat up and rubbed her wrists.
“Excellent. Lily – you take Rebecca and make sure she is cleaned up, while I take Charlotte into the kitchen and get her to throw some breakfast together.”
“Do you have to leave the door open,” Rebecca asked as she walked into the bathroom.
“I need to be sure you don’t try anything stupid.”
Nodding, Rebecca stripped off and stepped into the shower while Lily watched her from behind the screen. The hot water made her feel a little better, and the soap helped ease the marks on her wrists and ankles.
Stepping out and putting on a white robe, she picked up her clothes from yesterday and walked with Lily into her bedroom. There, she selected a light blue long sleeved blouse and a pair of black jeans, as well as a clean bra and pair of knickers, and quickly dressed as the female captor continued to watch.
“I presume I’m going to be tied up again at some point, so I want some protection,” she said as she left the room. The two women walked back into the kitchen, where Charlotte was standing at the stove scrambled eggs and toast, while George poured hot water into a coffee pot.
“Sit down, ladies,” he said, “Breakfast won’t be a moment. Lily – you can get changed once we’ve got breakfast sorted out.”
“All right, George,” she said as she took a seat and Charlotte brought plates of food over. As the four sat eating, Rebecca and her daughter looked at each other, the unspoken question passing between them as if they were telepathic.
“Tell me, Rebecca, what plans do you have for today?”
“Since you ask so nicely, I had planned to go shopping today, but I suppose that is out of the question?”
“I’m afraid so,” George nodded as he took a bite of toast. “You can draw up the list, and I’ll get what you need. Don’t worry – I won’t attract attention,” he said as he caught a look in Lily’s eyes, “and what about you Charlotte?”
“I have some chores to do around the house,” she replied as she looked at her mother.
“Well, Lily will be glad to help you with them, won’t you Lily?”
“Of course – if I can take some Wellingtons?”
“There are spare pairs in the hallway,” Rebecca said as she pushed her plate away. “So, am I meant to go shopping with you?”
“You’ll find out,” George said as he passed a sheet of paper and a pen to Rebecca. “You just write your list out.”
The clock struck ten as Lily and Charlotte were in the hallway, each pulling on a pair of Wellington boots when George came back down the stairs. He was wearing a brown wig and dark glasses, and had changed into a jumper, trousers and sports jacket. He put a checked cap on his head and donned a pair of dark glasses.
“Where’s my mother?” Charlotte asked.
“She’s fine – just resting up,” George said as he buttoned his coat up. “Lily – checks on Rebecca every half hour please, and make sure Charlotte is with you when you do so?”
“Of course, George,” the young woman replied. After breakfast, she too had changed into a white long sleeved cotton blouse and a pair of jeans.
“Right – see you later,” George called as he went towards the kitchen. Lily and Charlotte walked out of the front door, and started to feed the pigs in the yard.
A short while later, the two girls came back into the kitchen, leaving their Wellington boots at the back door. Lily put some water in the kettle, watching Charlotte all the time, and then took her by the arm.
“Let’s see how your mother’s doing, shall we?” She said as she led the young girl up the staircase to the main bedroom. Charlotte gasped as the two girls walked in.
Rebecca was lying on her bed; her arms pulled up above her head and tied to the headboard with a length of the washing line. Her ankles were crossed and tied together, and her legs were also bound above her knees. A scarf had been rolled into a thick band, and was tied into her mouth to muffle any sounds.
“Mum – are you all right,” Charlotte called out as Lily went over to check the knots.
“M fn, chrlt,” Rebecca replied, “dnt wrry bt m”.
“You’ll be all right for a little while,” Lily said as she came back, “but you’ll have to stay there until George comes back. Now relax, and you’ll be fine.”
The sound of a car driving up caught Lily’s ear, and Charlotte felt a pang of fear as she walked over to the window, then picked up the pistol and grabbed her arm.
“You keep quiet,” she said to Rebecca as she marched Charlotte back down the stairs. “Who are these two?”
“Friends who were coming to stay – I forgot they were due today,” Charlotte replied, hoping the half-lie would be accepted.
“Let’s hope they don’t cause you any trouble – I’ve got my gun in my pocket,” Lily said as she pushed Charlotte towards the door. Opening it, she looked at the two women standing there, one dark haired and the other blonde, both dressed in jumpers, leggings and flat shoes.
“Tara. Lucinda. It’s wonderful to see you,” Charlotte said as she hugged each of the girls. “Please, come in.”
“Who’s this?” Tara asked as she carried tow holdalls in.
“Oh, this is Tracy, my aunt’s granddaughter. She dropped in unexpectedly. Coffee, anyone?”
53 19 59
6 14 56
Two pieces of paper were sitting on the table, as Madame X and Penelope sat pondering the possible meaning of the two pieces of the puzzle they had retrieved so far.
“Any thoughts?” The tall dark haired woman said as they looked at the numbers.
“I think it’s some sort of way of defining where to start looking, but for the life of me I have no idea what they may possible mean. It can’t be letters – half the numbers are greater than 26. An atlas, possibly?”
Madame X shook her head. “Unless you have a very large atlas, Penelope, the numbers make no sense. They could mean words on the pages of a book, but it would have to be a very common book.”
“You mean in the way they appeared in the Sherlock Holmes book?”
“Yes – but that was a gazetteer, and it was from the year before the story was set. I wonder – location finder of some thought?”
Penelope nodded. “I’ll give ti some more thought – any idea when we might get the third part of the puzzle yet?”
“We have to wait a day or two more – if things have gone as planned, my contact should be trying to find out just now…..”
“Why don’t you sit with your friends, Charlotte, and I’ll get the coffee.”
Tara smiled at Lily. “Thanks, Tara that would be wonderful. White with two sugars for both of us please.”
Smiling back in response, Lily stood back as the new arrivals walked into the front room. As Charlotte went with them, she grabbed her arm and said out loud “Come and give me a hand with the cups, please.”
“Sure,” Charlotte said with a worried glance at the two girls as Lily led her back into the kitchen.
“Right then, who are these two?” The young girl hissed at Charlotte as she passed the kettle to her captive.
“I invited them to stay – Lucinda was a couple of years above me at school, and teaches a night class to my form. I hoped they would have cancelled, but I didn’t want to say anything in case….”
“In case we did something stupid?” Lily laughed. “I’ll say this for you, Charlotte, you have guts. Just remember that your mother is upstairs – now put some coffee in those mugs – I’ll take care of the milk.”
Charlotte took four mugs off the tree on the work surface and spooned some coffee into the cups. As the kettle boiled, she went to fetch it while Lily put some milk into the mugs, watching the young girl all the time. As Charlotte poured the hot water in, Lily spooned sugar into two of the mugs and stirred all four, putting the spoon in the sink.
“You carry the tray, and I’ll take care of the doors,” she said. Charlotte picked up the tray and followed Lily back into the room. “Did you have a good drive here?” Lily asked as Charlotte placed the tray on the table, and she handed the two visitors the mugs she had put the sugar into.
“A bit wet, but the last bit was all right,” Tara replied as she took a drink from her mug. “Why your parents want to live out here in the middle of nowhere when they do the work they do I don’t understand.”
“Where is your mother anyway – has she gone out?” Lucinda asked as she too took a drink.
“No – the car is in being repaired. She’s… upstairs having a lie down at the moment.”
“Pity,” Lucinda said as she took another drink. “Tell me, Tracy, how’s your course going. Taking a break for the weekend.”
“Yes – I have a few days off at the moment. Drink up, both of you – you must be cold after the drive.”
Lily and Charlotte both drank from their mugs as the two new arrivals drained the contents of theirs. “That’s better,” Tara said as she put her cup down, “That drive must have taken more out of me than I thought. I don’t know about you, Luci, but I feel tired.”
Lucinda stretched her arms up as a yawn escaped her. “Thas fnny,” she said with a slurred voice, “I sudnly fee……” She slumped back in the chair, her head over to one side, as her eyes suddenly closed and she fell into a deep sleep.
“Chrlot, I dnt feee….” Tara tried to stand up, but she too slumped back into the seat and slid onto the floor.
“What did you do to both of them,” Charlotte asked as Lily stood up and checked both of the unconscious girls, lifting their eyelids to examine the unresponsive pupils of their eyes.
“A simple drug that knocks them out for a few hours,” Lily said as she stood back up. “It gives us a chance to make sure they are comfortable while we work out what to do next.” She stopped as a mobile phone went off in her pocket, which she quickly answered.
“Yeah – we have a couple of unexpected guests, but they’re sleeping at the moment. It’s safe to come back now, and then we can take care of them.
“Yeah – I’ll take care of that while you come back round. See you in a few minutes.”
Replacing the phone in her pocket, she took Charlotte by the arm and let her out of the room. “You need to find out what happens when we get surprised,” she said as she pulled the frightened girl up the staircase.
Tara’s head was throbbing like crazy, and she felt as if her mouth was filled with something like cotton wool. As she slowly opened her eyes, she began to see the front room they had been sat in when she fell asleep, but now her bottom was cold and she seemed to be sitting on the floor.
“Lcind?” She said with a slurred voice, but a female voice she had never heard said “Let yourself come to before you say anything – you need to understand what is happening here.”
Looking to her left through half-closed eyes, she saw a woman in her late forties sitting on the seat she had been on earlier. She was wearing a light blue full sleeved blouse and jeans, and her hands were sitting in her lap. To her blurred eyes, it looked as if she was holding her hands together, but there was a thin white streak that made Tara think something else was going on.
“I’m Rebecca, Charlotte’s mother,” the female voice said as Tara slowly began to come fully into an awake state. “And I’m sorry that you’ve walked into this situation.”
Finally raising her head, Tara saw that Rebecca actually had her wrists tied together in front of her, and the rope was passed down her legs and around her ankles as well.
“What’s going on?” She asked as she looked down and saw that she too had her wrists tied together and lying on her lap. Her ankles were also crossed and tied, as were her legs above her knees. “Where’s Luci?”
“Lucinda is behind you,” Rebecca replied, “Try leaning forward.” As Tara did so, she realised that something else was pulling her back, and looking to her side she saw that her arms were linked with Lucinda’s. A grunt from behind her head told her that her friend was also there, although not awake yet.
“I’m afraid we’re being held hostage, and you walked right into it. Isn’t that right?”
Tara wondered who Rebecca was talking to, but she got an answer when a male voice said “That is quite true, Rebecca, and I’m afraid you and your friend, Tara, are going to have to remain our guests as well.”
Turning her head to the other side, Tara saw a portly, middle aged man sat there with a rifle across his lap. Something about him looked familiar….
“I’ve seen you on the news – you’re that bank robber…”
“George Simpson, at your service. You’ve already met Lily, haven’t you?”
“Wha’s gong n?” Lucinda said in a dreamy voice as Tara watched the young woman who had been introduced to her as Tracy standing in the doorway.
“Lily, why don’t you bring Charlotte back down, and we can start to have a late dinner?” George said with a smile on his face. “You’ve been out for nearly eight hours, and I’m sure you must be hungry.”
“Tara,” Lucinda said as she raised her head and realised she had been tied up, “What’s going on.”
“Lucinda,” Tara replied, “it’s another fine mess you’ve got me into.”
A few minutes later, Lily walked Charlotte back into the room, her wrists also bound in front of her and a wide strip of sticking plaster over her mouth. She sat the bound girl down next to her mother, used the rope she had led her in by to bind her ankles together, and then gently removed the plaster from her mouth.
“Char,” Lucinda said as she came to full consciousness, “Would you mind telling me what’s going on?”
“I’ll let you ladies chat while I sort out dinner,” George said as he stood up and handed the rifle to Lily, who sat in his place. “Lily will keep you company. When I shout through, bring them in one at a time, would you?”
Penelope was standing in the office as the sunset streamed through the window. Madame X looked up at her assistant.
“I’ve been thinking about those numbers. I wonder if they indicate some sort of location – the place where the diamonds may be secreted.”
“I considered that, Penelope, but that would normally indicate a GPS code – and these numbers were inscribed years before……”
Madame X looked forward, with her pen dangling in her hand, a small smile creeping across her face.
“Penelope….. Did you by any chance study Geography at school?”
“Not to any great extent, Madame, why do you ask?”
“Because, my dear, rather like Holmes and Watson we are a bit ahead of ourselves. Start up your laptop, Penelope, and find a location site that uses latitude and longitude.”
“Well, now, that was a nice meal, wasn’t it?”
George, Lily and the four women were sat around the large table in the kitchen. Rebecca and Charlotte were sat at one side, while Tara and Lucinda sat at the other. All four had rope wrapped around their waists, holding them firmly to the back of their chairs, and their ankles bound to the front legs. In addition, Charlotte’s right wrists was bound to her mother’s left, while on the other side of the table Tara’s left was bound to Lucinda’s right. Their other hand had been left free to allow them to eat the cold buffet with their fingers and drink from the plastic cups that George had bought earlier that day.
“I could have done with something hot,” Lucinda said as she pushed her plate away, “but under the circumstances, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Lily, my dear, please clear the plates away and I will wash up later.”
As George and Lily stood up, however, the telephone rang. Rebecca looked at her daughter as the answer machine started.
“Hi – we can’t answer the phone just now, but if you can leave a message we’ll call you back.”
The beep answered, and they listened to a male voice.
“Rebecca, Steve here. Can you call me back on my mobile when you get this, please – I have something to tell you.”
“Your husband?” George looked at the older woman.
“Yes – I need to call him back or he might get worried.”
“A little preparation first – Lily?”
The young woman took a roll of brown plaster from the work surface, and quickly gagged Tara, Lucinda and Charlotte with wide strips over their mouths.
“A temporary measure, I assure you. Rebecca, what is the number I need to call?”
As Rebecca gave George the number, he dialled on the handset and placed it next to Rebecca’s face, while Lily pointed the shotgun at the other three captives.
“No funny stuff,” George whispered as the ringing tone was heard, “I’m listening.”
Rebecca nodded and then started speaking.
“Steve? Hello darling – sorry I couldn’t answer the phone a few minutes ago. I was tied up in some work.
“No, Charlotte’s gone out with her friends tonight – they should be back later. I’m sure she’d want me to send you her love.
“That’s wonderful news, darling – so you’ll be back on time then?
“Good, good. Listen, there’s someone at the door – I invited some friends round to keep me company. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon?
“Wonderful – ‘bye for now. Love you – more than you know.”
“That was nice,” George said as he switched the handset off and Lily removed the tape gags. “I take it that means your husband will be back tomorrow?”
Rebecca nodded as Charlotte said “So, are you going to be man enough to be here when he gets back?”
“No, my dear Charlotte,” George replied as he came over and pulled Charlotte’s head back. “I’m going to be cautious enough that neither Lily nor I will be here. Don’t worry, though – I’ll make sure all four of you are comfortable before we leave. In the meantime, why don’t we go through and watch a film together, hmm?”
“Mary! Tracy! How are you two?”
Esther held the door open as her sister and grand-niece made their way into her house, dropping their travelling bags on the floor as they did so. She took their coats and hung them in the cupboard, then gave both women a huge hug.
“How are you coping, Esther?” Mary said as she looked at her young sister. She still had some rope marks on her wrists, but otherwise seemed to be all right. Esther, in turn, could see the worry lines on Mary’s forehead had grown a little deeper.
“What are we going to do with each other?” She finally said. “I thought we had our once in a lifetime experience thirty years ago!”
“Obviously not – although it’s one heck of a coincidence that we both got robbed within a week of each other. Did they take much?”
Esther looked down for a moment. “They cleaned me out of everything – including my necklace. Having said that, the police called round earlier and gave me it back.”
“What? How did they find it?”
“They were following a tip-off about some other robbery, when they found it in the flat of one of a gang of thieves. They still don’t know how she got it, but at least I have it back now.”
“Let us be grateful for small mercies,” Mary said as she hugged her sister again. “At least the two who robbed us were gentler.”
Tracy looked at the two women. “Gran? You never told me what happened when you were robbed in your house. I’d like to hear about it – if it’s not too painful.”
“Tracy,” Esther said smiling, “If nothing else this experience has put that into context. Come on – I’ll make some coffee and we’ll tell you all about it. I might even call Rebecca and get her to join in…..”
“Well, ladies, I trust you all managed to get some sleep?”
The four women slowly opened their eyes to the sight of George cutting several coils of rope into various lengths.
“Oh God,” Charlotte cried, “What are you planning to do with that?”
“All in good time, Charlotte,” George said as he laid down the pair of scissors he had been using. “Ah, Lily, I trust you got some rest?”
Lily nodded as she walked in the door and yawned. “What do you want me to do, George?”
“Make some coffee for all of us, there’s a dear. If I untie all of you, do you promise not to do anything stupid?”
“We promise,” Rebecca said as she looked at the other three. “So long as you keep your promise that you leave this morning.”
“Of course we will – so just sit still and Lily will bring the coffee in. After that, we will start to make arrangements for our departure, and leave you until your husband comes home.”
“Don’t worry, Charlotte,” Tara said softly, “You know Luci and I have been in worse scrapes than this. We’ll find a way through.”
Once the coffee had been drunk, George looked at his watch.
“Lily, take Tara up and allow her to wash and change, then do the same for Lucinda. I want a word with Rebecca while you do that.”
As Lily led Tara out of the room by the arm, George sat facign the other three women and smiled. “Rebecca, in a little while you and I will go up to your room. I freely admit we’re going to take a few things of yours with us, just to keep us going, but I do want to have a careful look around your bedroom while doing that. You don’t object, do you?” He patted the rifle on his lap while he said that.
A short while later, Lily brought Lucinda back into the room. Both she and Tara had changed into long sleeved tops and jeans, and had thick socks over their feet. George smiled at them both.
“We need to make sure you two are secure first – after all. You are the guests here. Both of you sit on the floor, back to back.”
“Ready, Tara?” Lucinda said as she sat down.
George handed each of the two women a length of rope.
“I want you both to tie your ankles together – and do it properly, or else Lily will do it, and I assure you she can be a little rough. After all, she tied you up when you first arrived.”
The two looked at Rebecca, who was sat on the couch while Lily led her daughter off to freshen up. Tara drew her knees up to her chest, and kneeling forward began to tie her ankles together, cinching the rope between her legs as she did so.
“You both look like you’ve done this before,” George said as he handed each girl second length of rope. “Now, your legs above your knees, if you please.”
Charlotte came back into the room to see Tara and Lucinda on the floor, their legs outstretched and bound at the ankles and thighs. “Lily, please take Rebecca upstairs to change,” George said, “and Charlotte, sit there with your hands on your head.”
Next, he handed the two girls a small sponge ball, and a knotted white scarf. “Place the ball in your mouth, then tie the scarf with the knot keeping the ball in, and the knot behind your head.”
“You mean you want us to gag ourselves?” Tara said, and George nodded. The two women did as he asked, pulling the scarf in so that their lips closed around the knot.
“Ah, peace and quiet,” George said as he handed Charlotte a length of rope. “Tara, pull your legs up and put your hands under your knees. Charlotte here is going to tie your wrists together.”
Doing as she was asked, Tara nodded at Charlotte as she passed the rope around her wrists and pulled it tightly. “Make sure you pass the ends between her wrists,” George said as the young girl tightly bound Tara’s wrists together, leaving the knot under her wrists and Tara with her hands trapped under her legs.
“The same thing for Lucinda if you please,” George said as Lily brought Rebecca back into the room. She took Charlotte’s mother over to the couch and sat her down as her daughter bound the other visitor’s wrists together.
“Thank you Charlotte, you may sit with your mother now,” George said as he took an uncut coil of rope and began to tie Tara and Lucinda together around their chests. Having done that, he took two more lengths, and secured their wrist bindings to the ankle ones.
“That should keep you from raising the alarm,” he said as he stood up. “Now, Rebecca, why don’t you come with me?” The older woman stood up; smoothed down the tan trousers she had changed into, and walked over to George. “Lily – make sure these three don’t cause any trouble?”
Lily nodded as Tara and Lucinda let their heads bow down, and Charlotte watched in fear of what was to happen next.
“You think these are latitudes and longitudes?”
“I do indeed Penelope – the question really is which way round they are.”
Madame X and her assistant were looking at a computer screen, the web page open at a geographical location site.
“I guess we have no alternative – we try each one in turn and see what locations we get out.”
“My compliments, Rebecca – your security is most impressive, but it’s only the money I want to take.”
George was searching through the contents of the safe in Rebecca’s bedroom, while the woman herself sat on the bed. Her wrists were bound together behind her back, and then secured to the headboard, and her legs bound at the ankles, thighs and calves.
“Mind you – these are rather nice as well,” he said as he held up a pair of bracelets, which glistened in the sunlight as he held the jewels to the window.
“Please – those are an heirloom. You swore you only wanted cash,” Rebecca said as she squirmed round in an attempt to loosen the ropes.
“And so I do, my dear woman,” he said as he replaced the bracelets in the safe, and closed the door. “Excuse me one moment – Lily, bring Charlotte up would you?”
“No funny stuff now,” Rebecca heard Lily say as she came up the staircase, bringing Charlotte with her. Earlier, she had also changed into a long sleeved sweater and jeans, realising what was going to happen to her.
“Thank you, Lily, now go and watch the other two until I come down.”
Lily left the room, and Charlotte looked over at her mother. “Are you all right?” She said, and Rebecca managed a weak smile in response.
“Please, Charlotte,” George said as he came over with a length of rope, “turn round and put your hands behind your back.”
He started to wrap the doubled over rope around the young girl’s wrists, pulling it tighter with each wrap and cinching it between her crossed wrists. He then took a longer length and secured her wrists into the small of her back, before passing a second long length around her upper body.
“Not too uncomfortable, I trust?” he asked as he tied the last knot off, and Charlotte tried to get her hands free to no avail. “Rebecca, will you please bring your legs up towards your chest for a few minutes?”
Rebecca looked at the man in a strange way, but did as he asked as he brought Charlotte over to the bed. “Lie down on your stomach so that you are next to your mother’s feet.”
Doing as he asked, Charlotte looked over her shoulder as George quickly crossed and bound her ankles together, followed by her legs above her knees. To her shock, and Rebecca’s surprise, George then took hold of the older woman’s legs and passed them over her daughter’s body, then took Charlotte’s ankles and pulled them over her mother’s legs before tying them down to the chest ropes.
“There now – nice and cosy,” he said as he stood beck to admire his handiwork. “Just one more thing to do.”
He took two sponge balls out of his pocket, and pushed one into the mouth of each woman, before taking two of Rebecca’s scarves, tying a knot in the middle of each one and using it to further gag her and Charlotte.
“Ladies, thank you for your hospitality for the last few days, but Lily and I will be going now,” George said as he left the bedroom closing the door behind himself. Descending the staircase, he stopped at the telephone table and scribbled a note on a piece of paper. Pocketing the paper, he looked into the front room, where Tara and Lucinda had not moved.
“Time to go, Lily,” he said, and the two left the room. The sound of the kitchen door opening and closing, and a car driving off, was followed by a silence only broken by the sounds of the countryside outside.
The clock had struck the hour twice when the telephone rang. In the bedroom, Charlotte started to try and wriggle out of her hog tie, while Rebecca tugged at the rope holding her wrists to the headboard, but both to no avail.
“mm – I cnt gt fr”
“kp trng, chrlt, kp trng.”
In the front room, both Tara and Lucinda raised their heads and listened as the answering machine kicked in.
“Rebecca, its Hannah. I have Mary and Tracy here, and we were talking about what happened thirty years ago. Give us a call when you get back in.”
Tara looked over her shoulder at Lucinda.
The two girls took a deep breath, and then brought their bound legs right up to their chests. Tara leaned back as far as she could do so, and Lucinda began to slowly move her wrists under her ankles, taking care not to trap the rope that held them together.
In the bedroom, Charlotte had an idea.
“Cn u ras ur lgs?”
“Lt m tr”
Rebecca pushed down on the bed with her feet, and managed to raise her legs enough for Charlotte to start to slowly slide up the bed underneath her mother. As she wriggled up, Rebecca raised her lower back as well, until the two women had their backs against each other, perpendicular to one another.
Lucinda finally managed to bring her hands out from under her feet, and let her legs fall flat onto the ground with her wrists on her lap.
“Ur trn, tr”
As Lucinda leaned back, Tara started to do as her friend had already managed. This took a little longer, but eventually both women had their wrists in front of them.
“Nw, cn u rch the knt fer the cnnctg rp?”
Tara nodded, and the two women started to use their fingers to work on the rope that held their wrists to their feet.
Charlotte had managed to get far enough up the bed that she could, with some help from Rebecca, reach her mother’s mouth. Looking over her shoulder, she managed to hook two of her fingers underneath the scarf, and began to try and work the knot out from her mouth.
“Rdy t cntnu?”
Tara looked over her shoulder at Lucinda, and the other girl nodded. Bracing their feet on the ground, both started to push down and raise their bodies up, slowly and carefully so that they did not fall, until they were standing back to back in the room.
“nd on…. To… fre….”
With short hops, the two girls started to move across the room towards the doorway.
“That’s better,” Rebecca said as she spat the sponge ball out of her mouth, the sodden scarf hanging round her neck. “Thank you Charlotte – I only wish I could return the favour.”
“Dnt wry mm – tra nd lus wl tk cr f thngs.”
“Tara and Lucinda – what can they do.”
Rebecca now heard the sound of thumping on the floor downstairs as the two women hopped towards the telephone. Reaching the table, Lucinda managed to remove the headset, make a connection and dial 999.
“Hello, which service please?”
“I’m sorry caller, I did not hear that. Which service do you require?”
“Pls, nd hry!”
“Caller, listen carefully. Are you unable to speak for a reason?”
“Has someone broken into your house?”
“Nt min – m a gst hr.”
“Are you gagged?”
“Caller, stay on the line. We are tracing your call, and the police will be with you as soon as it is possible to do so. Are intruders still on the premises?”
“N – thy wnt a whl ag.”
“All right, caller. Stay calm – help is on the way.”
“How on earth did they do that, Charlotte – I thought they wouldn’t be able to get free?”
“Thr gd tchrs, mm.”
Rebecca put her head back – her ordeal was almost over. “What are the girls going to say about this when I call them,” she said to herself, unaware of what else had been happening.
“Well, we have sixteen possible locations. I think we can rule out about 12 of them – too remote or in the middle of the ocean.”
Penelope looked at the sheet of paper on the table. “I agree, the question is which one?”
The ornate telephone on the desk rang, and Penelope answered.
“Yes? Oh, one moment – George Simpson for you,” she said handing the phone to Madame X.
“George darling – how was your stay? Excellent – let me write that down.”
She took a pen and scribbled eight numbers down. “Thank you George – do keep in touch.”
“Is that the final piece of the code?” Penelope asked as she replaced the receiver.
“Yes – but how does it fit with this list?”
Penelope studied the list for a moment, then picked up the telephone receiver. “I wonder,” she said as she dialled a sequence of numbers.
A female voice came over the receiver.
“Wyndham Hall Conference Centre, Dublin. How can I help you?”
“And, as you can see, the main function room is a delightful place in which to hold your reception.”
The smartly dressed woman opened the door of the room, and the young couple stared around in amazement. The high walls were painted white, with tasteful pieces of art arranged around the room, and on the ceiling two large chandeliers were the obvious source of light for evenings. The large bay windows looked out over the large grounds of Wyndham Hall.
“So, do you believe this would be suitable for your wedding?” she asked the woman. She was about five foot six, smartly dressed in a pink silk dress and light grey bolero jacket, with grey patent leather heels and stockings.
“It’s certainly beautiful,” the young woman said with a slight accent as she looked around. “Do you mind if we take a few photographs to show my fiancé’s family?”
“By all means,” the manageress replied as she sat in a chair, her ankles together and to one side and the dark blue skirt of her outfit lying over her knees. Lucy O’Hara had spent the last five years helping young couples plan their weddings, and this couple looked like they were entranced by the place.
“If I may ask, what part of the states are you from?” She asked as the man took a number of pictures with his digital camera.
“California,” he replied, “but the family came originally from this area. I think they’d love the idea of coming home for this.”
“So you both met in the states,” she asked the young woman as she walked back.
“Yes – I had to spend some time out there for professional reasons, and we hit it off instantly. Miss O’Hara…”
“Lucy – please call me Lucy.”
“Lucy, I think we would love to have our wedding here, wouldn’t we dear?” The man nodded in reply as he continued to take photographs. “If it is all right with you, we’ll take a walk round the grounds and then come back and discuss dates with you.”
“By all means,” Lucy said, and she accompanied the couple out into the reception area. “If you ask for me when you are ready, I’ll have the booking forms ready for you.”
The couple shook hands with Lucy, and walked out of the main entrance with Lucy watching them leave. They stood outside, taking more photographs as they walked round.
“So, Darling,” the young woman said, “Do you think its right for our wedding?”
“That and so many other things – I’m glad we got the opportunity to come here,” the man said as a mobile phone started ringing in his fiancée’s handbag.
“Hello? Yes, we should be able to make it there in time. We have much to report and show you. See you later?”
“Was that….” He said as she replaced the phone.
“Yes, it was. Come on – I think we’ve seen enough for now.”
“You as well? I don’t believe it!”
The three Reissman daughters were sitting in a café in Soho – when the news had reached Mary of events in the west, she and Esther had insisted on meeting up with Rebecca to discuss matters.
“I wouldn’t call it a robbery in the same way you and Mary were robbed, Esther – we were held hostage more than anything. It was the girls I felt most sorry for.”
“Even so,” Mary said as she took a sip of coffee, “it’s an awfully big coincidence – all three of us being attacked within a few days of each other.”
“It’s a dangerous world, Mary – I later found out that Simpson man had had car trouble, and we were the nearest house to where they broke down. It could have been anyone else if they’d gone a little further.”
“Well, let’s hope it is just a coincidence. We don’t need a repeat of thirty years ago happening to all of us at the same time. Actually, that reminds me.”
Mary reached into her handbag and withdrew two envelopes, handing one each to Esther and Rebecca. “I got this from John Jacobs – the proceeds of the sale of father’s effects.”
“Do you ever wonder what might have happened if they hadn’t stolen those diamonds?” Rebecca asked as she put the envelope into her coat pocket.
“I tried not to think about that night at all if I could help it – when Mary came up with Tracy that was the first time I’d talked about it in years.”
Mary looked at her two younger sisters, and stood up. “Girls, a toast – to the past, and a future without nasty surprises.”
The other two took their cups, raised them and drank.
The young couple pulled up outside the Hilton, handed the keys to the attendant and walked into the coffee lounge. Sitting there was a young woman, elegantly dressed in a cream trouser suit and top, who looked up as they approached and stood to hug them both.
“Susan, Clint – how lovely to see you again. So, when’s the happy day?”
“Soon – once other business is settled, we’ll let you know. How are you – we heard after your last visit about your brother.”
“He’s fine – it all turned out well in the end.”
“Where is Madame?”
“She’ll be along shortly – she has a meeting to finish first.”
Madame was sat in a chair, facing Big Mike across the desk of his office.
“You honour me with your visit, Madame,” he said as he offered her a drink and sat back down. “What brings you to Dublin?”
“I have some business that I need to take care of here, and I wanted as a matter of courtesy both to inform you and also to ask what advice you may be able to give.”
Big Mike nodded as he sat down. “I see – again I thank you for the honour and courtesy. May I ask what your business is?”
“Confidential, I am afraid Michael. All I can see is that it will involve a raid on a local noted establishment, and that there is an opening for you to help out and gain from it as well.”
“You intrigue me. Can you at least offer a hint?”
“Well, since you insist – we have information of a large cash deposit to be kept at the Wyndham Hall centre in the next two weeks. That is not our target – the details of that are confidential, but the target will be in the building at the time. If, say, you were to offer to assist, we would gladly allow you to take the money on exchange for not asking what we are actually doing.”
Big Mike took a drink and looked at the woman opposite. “Wyndham Hall? Very nice, very discreet – and you say you would not want any of the money there?”
“No, Michael, but the help would be appreciated.”
“Very well – I accept your generous offer. When can we have the details?”
“You may contact me through my assistant Penelope – she will coordinate from my group. I trust you will be taking care of any other difficulties?”
“I will inform those who need to know that this has been agreed. I look forward to hearing the details, Madame.”
“Thank you, Michael,” Madame X said as she stood up. “Forgive me if I have to leave, but I have another meeting. We will talk again?”
“It will be a pleasure, as always, Madame?” Big Mike said as he kissed the proffered hand and watched the tall woman walk out of the room. After a moment’s thought, he pressed a button on the intercom.
“Jacqui, get Dave in here – we have a big job to start planning for.”
“Ah, here she comes now.”
“Susan, Clint, me deepest apologies – my meeting was slightly delayed.”
“Not at all, Madame, we are glad to see you again, and wanted to thank you for the opportunity to at last get close to home again.”
“Well, when I heard your good news, I thought you would be perfect for this assignment. So, tell me what you have learned.”
The four sat in quiet conversation, looking occasionally at the photographs Clint had taken. When he showed Penelope and Madame the pictures of the main hall, they both stared at the ornate chandeliers.
“I will say this for Mister Oscar Blakeley – he had a genius moment when he carried this out.”
Susan looked at Madame. “Is there something special about those chandeliers?”
“You might say that. For my part, I have informed the local overlord of some of our plans, and he has agreed to the diversion we have discussed. All I need now is to get in touch with one last person and bring him over for this job.”
Penelope looked at her boss. “Who would that be?”
“An old friend from the BA who has particular skills that may be of use to us. They call him The Electrician.”
The morning sun came through the kitchen window of Lucy’s house, as she stood there drinking her morning coffee. The sounds of traffic in the street at the front of the house were coming dimly through, as she sat there lost in thought.
“Penny for them, dear?”
Lucy turned round and looked at her mother, who was sat at the breakfast bar. She had only just got out of bed, and was sat in a blue dressing gown staring at her daughter.
“Nothing serious, Mum – just thinking through my agenda for today. ON which note,” she said glancing at her watch, “I need to get a move on. I’ll see you when I get back tonight.”
Putting her dirty mug in the sink, Lucy grabbed her car keys and handbag and headed for the front door. Her mother sat at the bar as she heard the door open and close, but only had time for a sip from her glass of juice before she heard the door open again.
“Did you forget something, Lucy?” she said as she turned round, only to be confronted by two women in dark jumpers and trousers, with stockings over their heads.
“Wh… who are you?” she stammered as they came forward, took her by the arms and led her out of the kitchen and into the front room.
“Thank you very much – we look forward to hearing from you soon.”
Replacing the received, Lucy looked up at her two co-workers in the office.
“That’s the hall booked for the last Saturday in March now – we’re booked up for the whole first quarter of next year!”
Ronnie and Belinda clapped as she said this. All three were dressed in the “Uniform” of the establishment – a dark blue jacket and skirt, a white blouse with a thin blue pinstripe and a light blue scarf around their necks. The two other girls were wearing dark stocking and black shoes, while Lucy was in light tights and white kitten heels.
“I feel like celebrating – once I answer this,” Lucy cried out as her cell phone started ringing. She looked at it, saw that two messages were waiting for her, and went into her in-box.
The first message had a photo attached, which Lucy looked at in bemusement, then horror. The photograph showed her mother, sat on a chair in the dining room of their house, but she wasn’t looking as she had when Lucy left that morning. There was grey tape over her eyes and mouth, and Lucy could see her waist was taped to the back of the chair. Her hands were pulled behind the chair, and she seemed to be struggling.
The second was a simple text – “You have seen the photograph. Call home immediately.”
“Are you all right, Lucy?” Belinda asked as her boss picked up the receiver and called her home phone number.
A female voice she did not recognise answered. “You have seen our photograph? If you wish your mother to see you again, then send one of your colleagues to the rear entrance and tell her to open the door. You will also disable the alarm system for the hall immediately. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” Lucy whispered.
“Do it now – if we do not hear it has been done within five minutes, your mother will suffer. Hang up now.”
Replacing the receiver, Lucy looked at the other two girls.
“Belinda, I need you to go and open the rear entrance. Can you do that now please?”
Belinda stood up and walked out of the office, while Ronnie looked at her boss.
“Lucy, is everything all right?” She asked as Lucy walked over to the door and closed it behind Belinda. She then reached into a panel by the door, and threw a switch.
“Lucy, that’s the alarm system – what’s going on?”
“I’m sorry,” Lucy whispered as the door was opened and Belinda was pushed back in by an armed man wearing coveralls and a balaclava. Through the door, Ronnie saw a group of about ten other people, similarly dressed.
“Team B, search and secure all other staff members,” the man said, “Team A, in here with me.”
Six of the intruders peeled off, while the other four came into the office with the man who had spoken.
“All right, ladies, this is a raid. Do exactly what we tell you, when we tell you. Did you talk on the telephone to my associates?” he said looking at Lucy, who nodded mutely. He then spoke into a microphone “Main area secured – continue with search.”
“I’m sorry, girls,” Lucy sobbed as the three women were herded into a corner of the room, “but they have my mother hostage.”
“Enough talking,” the man barked as he took three large sponges out of a bag. “Each of you, take one of these and put it in your mouth. You need to press it down, but it will fit.”
The three women looked at each other, and then Lucy took one sponge, squashed it into a ball, and placed it in her mouth. As the other two followed suit, one of the gang took a roll of silver duct tape, tore strips off and layered them over their lips to keep them in place.
“Come over here,” he said pointing to Lucy, and then as she came over he said to Belinda and Ronnie “Take your scarves off, fold them into bands and blindfold yourselves. You have exactly one minute, or we start hurting you.”
Ronnie trembled as she removed the scarf from around her neck and did as she was ordered. Belinda looked defiantly at the gang, before also did as she was asked. Both women then stood there as their arms were pulled behind their back, their wrists crossed and rope used to tie them together.
The remaining staff had been rounded up and herded into the cellar, where the other team had started to bind their wrists and ankles with tape and gag them with tape across their mouths. As the last of the cleaners was gagged, the team leader spoke into her microphone.
“This is team B – all other staff located and secured. Send in the specialists.”
At the rear of the building, a large grey removal van drew up. Eight men in grey overalls alighted, as did a woman in a black jumper and slacks, and a small wiry man with an electrical toolkit in his belt.
“Gentlemen,” the woman said, “Let’s get to work.”
Lucy had watched as the gang continued to tie up her two workmates. After their wrists were secured, their elbows had been pulled together behind their backs and tied, followed by ropes passed around their chests and arms so that they were trussed like sausages. More rope was passed around their neck and under the chest ropes below their breasts, and then pulled tightly, which had the effect of their breasts almost exploding from under their jackets.
They were now sat on the floor, their ankles crossed and bound and rope around their thighs and calves. The two were softly mewling through their gags, trying to twist round and find some give in their bindings, but all they heard was the squeak of the rope against their clothes and their shoes rubbing against each other.
In Lucy’s house, her mother was also sat still in the chair the two female intruders had taped her to. She tried to twist her wrist around, but the tape was holding them firmly together and against the back of the chair. Her ankles were taped to the legs of the chair, and her lap to the seat.
“Don’t struggle, and this will all be over soon,” the female had said as she tried to call out, despite the sponge stuffed into her mouth and secured in by the tape. “So long as your daughter does what is asked of her, then everything will be fine.”
“All right, you come with me to open the safe. You two stay here – the others come as well.”
The leader grabbed Lucy by the arm and took her out of the office, two of the others following suit. As the other two women continued to struggle, they didn’t notice the woman in black come in, nod to their two guards and collect a set of keys from the wall.
Walking out, she selected one and handed it to the wiry man.
“Let us know when you’re ready.” She said as he nodded and went up the main staircase. “You lot – come with me to the main hall, and bring the equipment.” The crews nodded and followed her, carrying step ladders and large tarpaulins.
We just sat there, Belinda and I, totally immobilised and wondering what the hell was going on. We knew that they had taken Lucy somewhere else, and that there was at least one of them in the room with us judging by the sound that we heard, but in front of me (and I presume Belinda) was just total darkness. I twisted round to give her a nudge, and I heard a low grunt that told me she was at least still awake. Someone said “Sit still,” and I tried to relax as much as I could.
The three gang members took Lucy into the back of the main reception desk. She looked round to see if she could see anyone else, but it looked as if the other gang members had indeed rounded up the rest of the staff. She was frogmarched into the rear office, and the door closed behind them.
“Right, Lucy” the gang leader said, “I want you to open the safe. We know there is a large amount of cash in there – no never mind how, we just do. Open the door, and then you won’t be bothered by us again.”
Lucy looked mutely at the men, then knelt in front of the safe and began to manipulate the dials, as tears started to flow down her cheeks.
“Truly, these are magnificent,” the woman in black said as she surveyed the chandeliers in the main hall. “Set up the ladders under each one, until we work out what we need to do.”
The team of men set up long stepladders under each of the three chandeliers, and stood back. One man stepped forward, with three small sheets of glass in his gloved hand, and climbed each of the stepladders in turn. With each one, he stroked the sheet of glass gently along a number of the clear components, then descended and moved on to the next one.
Once he had finished the task, he brought the three glass sheets over to the woman, who examined them carefully. Finally, she selected one and asked “Which chandelier is this from?” He nodded, and replied “The middle one – the other two don’t seem to be worth our attention.”
She nodded, and spoke into the microphone around her neck. “Attic team, are you hearing me?”
In the attic space above the main hall, there were two men – the man who had the electrical kit and one of the men in grey overalls. “We hear you,” the first man said, “what’s the decision?”
“The middle one – we’ll start preparations here, you get to work on the power.”
He nodded, and unbuckling his belt he began to set up a circuit breaker board for the middle chandelier. In the main hall, the woman turned to a group of four men. “Bring in box B. The rest of you – get the stepladders under the middle chandelier and get the tarpaulins ready as we practised.”
All I knew was they had my mother hostage, and I would do anything to get her back. I was trying so hard not to cry, because I’d heard the horror stories of people nearly choking to death, but my mother and the other two girls were my major focus. After all, money can be replaced, but lives can’t.
It took me longer than it should have – my hands were shaking from fear – but eventually I managed to get the safe door open. The man in charge looked in, and I could have sworn he was smiling as he took me by the hand.
“Very good, Lucy – now sit down in the chair.”
The leader took Lucy by the arm, and sat her in an office chair. His companions produced yet more lengths of rope, and pulling her arms behind the chair they proceeded to bind her crossed wrists together behind her back and to the central back support of the chair. She watched as the leader left the room, came back with a trolley that was used for dirty towels, and began to load the neatly wrapped piles of notes into the trolley.
She was so fascinated by this she failed to notice the ropes going around her chest and the chair back, until she let out an involuntary moan as the ropes were tightened around her breasts. Smaller ropes were tied around these and under her arms, which pulled them even more tightly, and then wrapped around her shoulders, neck and under the lower ropes so that her breasts also began to strain against the fabric of her jacket.
I just sat there – I was too terrified to move, and had been since they had grabbed me by the arms and marched me into the front room. They just kept saying to keep quiet, even though the first thing they did was stuff a sponge ball into my mouth and tape it over. That was strange – the soft feeling of the sponge was almost pleasant, but the pulling on my skin from the tape most certainly was not.
I had to watch as they wound more and more tape around me. My wrists were taped together behind the chair, but they almost mummified me against the chair back and across the seat. I found I had to breathe slowly and carefully through my nose, but as I got used to that I began to relax a little more. Then, after they had taped my bare ankles to the leg of the chair, they told me to close my eyes and I felt more tape being smoothed over my eyelids. That was when I started to get really scared – especially after I heard them talking to someone and telling that person what to do. I realised it was Lucy, but what were they after?
“Are you ready downstairs?”
The woman looked at the group of men, stationed on the stepladders under the middle of the three chandeliers, and holding tightly between them a large tarpaulin. She nodded and spoke into the microphone.
“Listen while I count down. Has the electrical supply been diverted?”
“All right, everyone. Take the strain. In three…. Two…… one……”
In the attic space, the two men began to loosen a large nut that was against the floor. Slowly, slowly, they released the connection as the chandelier dropped into the tarpaulin in a gentle manner.
“We have it – disconnect the cable and await the replacement.”
Very carefully, the team brought the tarpaulin down and placed the now disconnected chandelier on the floor. Moving to a crate, they opened it and gingerly removed a copy of the recently liberated fitting, which they placed on a second tarpaulin before carefully loading the first one back into the crate. As two of the gang began to close and secure the crate, the new tarpaulin was raised slowly up the ladders, and the central bolt with the electrical cable gingerly fed into the hole in the ceiling.
The woman watched and gave instructions. “Slowly…. A little to the right…. That’s it…… Hold it there! Can you start connecting?”
“We’re attaching the nut now – hold it in place until we give the word, and then you can begin the clear up down there.”
Ronnie was trying so hard to be brave, for both of us. I just sat there, trying to think of how wonderful it would be if Bill or someone else was to come in like a knight on their white steed and free both of us from the dragon. That never happened, however – and then the leader came back in without Lucy. I was scared for her – not knowing what had happened to my friend.
“Thank you, Lucy; I think we’re finished here now.”
Lucy started at the gang leader, as her bound ankles were pulled back under the chair and secured to the back support with a length of rope. Her legs had also been tied together above and below her knees, and the ropes were chaffing against her legs where they had been passed through to cinch the various bindings.
“We just need to make sure you can’t see what happens next,” he said as he took the blue scarf off from around her neck, and as with the other two used it to blindfold her as she sat in the chair. “As soon as we leave here, your mother will be left alone, I promise you that,” he whispered into her ear as his accomplices pushed the heavy trolley, laden with the contents of the safe, into the hallway. Lucy inclined her head as she heard the door closing behind her, then the lock been turned. A few minutes past, and then she began to try to free herself from the restricting ropes.
In the corridor, the leader watched as the team from the main hall returned with the stepladders, tarpaulins and a large crate, followed by the woman in black. “I trust you are satisfied?” She said as she stopped to talk to him.
“Very much so – please, do thank Madame for the information. Did you manage to get what you were after?”
“I believe so, yes – ah, and thank you for your help today.”
The Electrician came down the stairway with his accomplice, grinning broadly.
“No, thank you – it’s not often I get to return a favour, and it was quite an experience. I will hear from you in due course?”
The woman nodded, and the remaining gang members made their way to the rear entrance.
Joey was a miracle worker – he somehow managed to get his hands free from the tape, and then freed himself. He walked around the cellar, untying everyone else and taking the tape gags off us, so that we could all look for a way to get out of the basement. The cleaners were the most scared, but he even managed to calm them down despite not speaking a word of their language.
Eventually, someone managed to force the cellar door open, and Joey went up the stairs with a few of the other men. They told us later what they found….
“N HR!!! WR N HR!!!”
Belinda and Ronnie screamed as loudly as they could as they heard the office door open again, and it was with a huge sense of relief that the tape was slowly peeled away from their eyes. They looked at each other, as the tape was taken from their mouths and the sponge ball eased out. They were both bedraggled, with their blouses open and their bras showing clearly between the ropes, and there were tear stains down both their faces, but at least they were now being freed.
Belinda thanked Joey as he slowly undid the ropes around her, while another man freed Ronnie. “They took Lucy somewhere,” she gasped, “I think they might have been after the contents of the safe.”
“Go and check,” Joey called over his shoulder to three other men in the doorway, as Belinda rubbed her wrists and hugged the young man.
I didn’t realise I was alone for some time – they must have slipped out at some point. It was only when I heard the door opening, the footsteps coming towards me, and the Garda officer in front of me as I blinked after the tape was removed, that I knew the ordeal was over. I saw Lucy later in the hospital, and she told me about the raid at her workplace, and that I was the way they got in.
I was just glad she survived – life is so much more important than money. Apparently the owners are looking to see what else happened, but it appears it was only the money they were after. Several hundred thousand Euros, so they must have felt it was worth terrorising so many innocent people to get their hands on it.
It was a few days later when she mentioned it looked like they had searched the main hall, and found nothing. She wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t look quite the same. Probably just her imagination and the stress of the day playing tricks with her.
“Thank you very much indeed – that is excellent news. I look forward to seeing the funds in the account by the end of business today. Good day to you, Herr Schweitzer.”
Madame X replaced the receiver in the holder and leaned back in her seat, fingers together under her chin. A small smile crept over her face as she thought over the subject of the conversation – indeed, so lost in thought was she that she failed the notice the “click click” of Penelope’s heels as she crossed the office.
“Oh – forgive me, Penelope, I was just thinking over the conclusion of our latest project.”
“Ah, that was our contact in Basel on the telephone then?”
“Indeed it was – he has secured some very favourable rates for us on our Swiss account on the basis of the latest deposit, and he expects to start the process of realising the profits in the next few months.
It will take some time to distribute the Reissman diamonds on the market, but I can afford to take a long view on the situation. Penelope, would you please contact John Jacobs and ask him if he would be free to come for dinner on Saturday? If so, I would be grateful if you could join us as well – I feel he needs to hear the full story.”
John walked into the penthouse apartment at eight pm on the following Saturday, and kissed Madame’s hand as she approached him.
“John – a pleasure to see you as always. I believe you know my assistant, Penelope?”
“I do indeed – a pleasure to see you as well, my dear,” The Cat responded as he kissed her hand. Both women were dressed in black Versace gowns for the occasion, while John had worn a formal dinner jacket – something had told him this would be a special evening.
“John, if it is all right with you, we will eat first. I feel the story we have to tell will sound better after a good meal,” Madame said as she indicated the dining table.
“I heard there was a major robbery in Dublin a few weeks ago – a large amount of money stolen and the staff captured by a very efficient team. Anything to do with you?”
John sipped his whisky as the three of them sat down in the leather armchairs.
“Yes…. And no. As you know, Big Mike is the major player in that city, and I can say he had more to do with the public aspect of that incident. He did, however, generously allow a team of my own choosing to do another job while we were there.”
Penelope smiled as her mentor said this, and John was quick to pick up on what the meaning of the smile was.
“Don’t tell me you found the Reissman diamonds?”
“We did indeed, John, and I wanted to thank you in person for setting us on the trail.”
“Hmm – Mary Harker called in a few weeks ago to collect the proceeds from her father’s effects, and she told me she and her granddaughter had been the victims of a robbery, apparently by The Gentlemen Robbers. What she told me confirmed in my mind it was them – and I need to thank you for following my request in that case.”
Madame raised her brandy glass to John. “I have to confess that Penelope did have a hand in that arrangement. What you may not have heard, however, was that we arranged for each of the Reissman daughter sot be visited by separate groups, and certain information hinted at in the Blakely letter communicated to us. It proved most illuminating – in more ways than one.”
“You intrigue me – in what way?”
“On Mary’s headdress and Esther’s necklace were three numbers. It took a little while to figure out their meaning, but we cracked it when the third piece of information came through – engraved inside Rebecca’s bracelets.
The first two sets of numbers turned out, in the end to be degrees of latitude and longitude – and when we found possible locations based on the numbers, it transpired the third set of numbers was a telephone number – old, but we managed to get the more recent version.”
“Let me guess,” John asked as he took a sip, “Wyndham Hall in Dublin.”
Penelope nodded. “We asked some of our operatives to visit the building, on the pretence of their upcoming wedding, while Madame visited Big Mike to make sure he was aware of a large cash deposit one of our sources told us was due at the hall in the next few weeks. When we all saw the photographs of the hall, and in particular the main reception room, we saw just how clever Oscar Blakely had been.”
Madame handed John a photograph of the main hall, with the chandeliers scattering light all round. He looked closely at it, and then said “I don’t get it.”
“Neither did us for a while,” Madame replied. “Tell me, John, how familiar are you with the works of Edgar Allen Poe?”
“I like the Vincent Price films, but I can’t say I’ve read many of the stories. Why?”
“There is a story of his called The Purloined Letter, featuring the character of C Auguste Dupin from Murders at the Rue Morgue. In it, the chief of police visit Dupin and explains that an important letter has been stolen. They know who stole it, they know why, but even after several searches of him and his apartment they cannot find it. The minutest detail is described of the search, but still nothing, so the chief asks Dupin for his help.”
“Did he find the letter?”
“Within half an hour – he realised that the letter had been there the whole time, in front of everyone, and collected it. Take another look at the photograph, John, and tell me what you think of the chandeliers.”
John looked closely at the photograph, and the light patterns that shone in the room, and slowly a thought crossed his mind. He sat silently for a few minutes, and then a soft laugh escaped from his lips.
“The sly old bastard,” he said. “Which one was it?”
“The centre chandelier. When we checked the history of the hall, we discovered that about twenty five years ago, the chandeliers were the gift of an anonymous donor – and Oscar Blakely had spent a few months in Dublin that year. We traced the manufacturer, discovered that Blakely himself has supplied the design of all three chandeliers and provided the glass for the lights….”
“And made sure one of them was made from the diamonds, not glass?”
Penelope nodded. “He was most insistent that separate boxes of glass were used for each one – the owner remembered that. The only question was which one? In the meantime, we had a duplicate made up to the same specifications, for what we said was the home of someone who had their wedding reception there.”
“I see – so you got a duplicate made, gave the information to Big Mike about the cash…”
“And got him to allow us to carry out our task while he got the money,” Madame said nodding. “I needed to call a favour in from a friend, but when the staff eventually got free they never noticed the centre chandelier had been replaced with a duplicate, or indeed that more than one team had been in the Hall that day.”
John laughed, shaking his head all the time. “I must admit I had no idea he was so clever – but full marks to him for the hiding place. Tell me, where are the diamonds now?”
“Safe,” Madame said as she stood up, walked over to her desk and withdrew a thin envelope from a drawer. “I do believe, however, that you should have a share of the profits – a finder’s fee, if you will.”
She handed the envelope to John, who opened it and looked at the contents, a low whistle escaping his lips. “I can’t accept this – it’s too much.”
“Nonsense – put it to good use somewhere. Now – let us enjoy the rest of this evening together.”
One year later
“It therefore only remains for me, on behalf of my sisters and the memory of our parents, to declare the Hannah Reissman Day Centre open!”
Mary Harker cut the ribbon, with Esther and Rebecca beside her, and the small crowd broke out in loud applause. As the people moved in to the new facility, Mary saw John Jacobs and waved him over.
“A fitting memorial to your parents, Mary,” he said as he shook her hand. “Have you ever discovered who the anonymous donor was?”
“No – but whoever it was, they were generous beyond means. We have enough funds coming in to keep this place open for carers of cancer sufferers for some considerable time. It was good of you to accept our invitation, John”
“My pleasure – I can’t miss an opportunity to remember an old friend.” He took two glasses of champagne, passed on to Mary and raised his own.
“To Jacob and Hannah – may they finally be at peace.”
Mary raised her own glass, and the tow drank to the memory of friends and family, and the past not forgotten.