Detective Hirsch looked up from the case files that were scattered on his desk to see his partner walk into the office.
“So what did the neighbour have to say,” he asked as he leaned back in his chair. Jerry Orbach poured himself a coffee and leaned against the wall.
“Exactly what you were told – she saw a delivery van pull up outside the Barnett residence at about one and make a delivery. She didn’t get a clear look at the people who collected the parcel – the van was obscuring the view of the door. My guess is that the intruders took whatever the delivery was and made off with it when they got away.”
“That would make sense, but think about it for a minute, Jerry. Mrs Barnett swore that the gang stayed in her house with her daughter and friends for quite some time – almost as if they were waiting for something. I wonder....”
“Lou, you’ve got that look in your eye.”
Hirsch stood up and took his coat from the back of the chair he had been sitting in. “Get onto the local UPS depot – find out who was making deliveries that day to that area of town and the delivery rosters for those people. I think we may have stumbled onto our first real clue.”
“All right, Elisabeth, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning. Goodbye now.”
Olivia Channon replaced the pearl handled receiver of her telephone in the ornate rest, and looked at herself in the mirror. Her grey hair was in a stiff perm, that kept the curls firmly fixed into what she felt was a pleasing look for a lady of her age. Adjusting the Hermes scarf that was tied loosely around her neck so that the corner fell over the shoulder of her cashmere sweater, she went back into the room at the rear of her house and picked up a magazine. As she sat down, her legs to one side as she had been taught years ago in finishing school, the door opened and a young girl came in.
“Ah, Jennifer, you may bring the coffee now,” she said without looking up. The young woman gave a little courtesy, said “Yes Mrs Channon” and left Olivia to read her magazine.
Jennifer was only twenty years old, and the job as the maid in the Channon household was only to tide her over the summer and raise some money to pay student debts. It wasn’t so much the uniform she hated – the white blouse and black skirt were all right, and she was used to walking in heels – as Mrs Channon’s old school sensibilities as to how those who worked in her home should be treated.
To put it bluntly, Olivia Channon was a snob, and as someone from a more blue collar background it annoyed Jennifer that was the case. As she busied herself in the kitchen, putting fresh coffee grounds into the percolator and filling the flask with hot water, she kept her thoughts to herself. The ring on the doorbell soon roused her from her dark revelries.
Wiping her hands on a towel, she made her way back up to the front door and opened it to see who had rung. Jennifer had a glimpse of someone in blue overalls before she was toughly pushed back into the house and made to stand against the wall while three men quickly made their way in, closing the door behind them. As she stood there, shaking, she felt her hands been pulled behind her back and heard a sound like a knife against plastic as her wrists were pulled together. She was then turned round and had her first real look at the new arrivals.
There were three of them, dressed as she had glimpsed in blue overalls but with balaclavas covering their heads, so that only their eyes and mouths were visible. They wore leather gloves on their hands, and one of them was carrying what looked like a workman’s bag. She reached with her fingers to see what was around her wrists, and felt a thin strip of plastic encircling them as it lay on top of the cuffs of her blouse.
“Who else is in the house,” the man standing in front of her demanded, and Jennifer stammered “Ooooo – only Mrs Channon, she’s in the back room.” The man looked at her, before taking a roll of what looked like white tape from his pocket and tearing a wide strip off. “Purse your lips,” he said, and Jennifer was unable to stop him smoothing the strip over her lips. It tugged slightly on the skin on her lower jaw, but as she tried to move her mouth she realised it was some form of sticking plaster, which moved with her jaw and prevented her making any noise. She offered no resistance as one of the other men took her by the arm and the party made their way to the room where Olivia was sitting.
“Thank you, Jennifer,” was all Olivia said without looking up as she heard the room door opening and closing. It took her a few minutes to register the fact that there was no sound of a tray being placed on the table, or coffee been poured, and she looked up to see what had happened.
Three men, in overall and wearing balaclavas, were standing in front of her. One of them had his gloved hand on the arm of her maid, who had her arms pinned behind her back and a length of some form of white tape over her mouth. Another was placing a bag on a table by the door, while the third was looking at her with cold blue eyes as he took a pistol from his pocket.
“Not a sound, Mrs Channon, if you want you and your servant here to see the rest of the day. Stand up and turn round.”
“What is the meaning of this,” Olivia said as she stayed in her seat, allowing the magazine she was reading to drop to the floor.
“This is a robbery, Mrs Channon, and unless you want to stay silent you will do as you are told. Now, stand up and turn round.”
Jennifer looked at her employer, eyes wide with fear as her long brown hair fell around her shoulders. The man holding her by the arm took her over to an armchair and pushed her into it, her legs flying up as she landed on the leather cushion. Olivia looked at the frightened girl, and slowly stood up.
“I see – well, if you will not harm us, I will do as you ask,” she said. “Very sensible – now turn round and put your hands behind your back,” the man said, and Jennifer watched as he used a white zip tie to secure her employer’s wrists together, the plastic digging into the sleeves of her jumper as it was pulled tight. She now realised what the rasping sound she had heard earlier was, as Olivia was turned around and pushed back into her chair.
“All right, Mrs Channon,” the man said as he stood over her, “Where is your safe and what is the combination?” In reply, Olivia nodded towards a portrait of herself and her husband that hung on the wall. “Behind there, and I’ll tell you the combination – just don’t hurt us.” Jennifer realised there was real concern in her voice, and began to think about whether or not she had misjudged her employer as the masked man took the portrait down from the wall.
One of the other two men knelt in front of Olivia and pulled her ankles together. She was wearing a pair of beige trousers, with short brown leather boots, and offered no resistance as he used a second zip tie to secure her ankles together, and then a third around her legs above her knees. The intruder than came over and repeated the process on Jennifer, the plastic cutting slightly into her thighs as he pulled the last tie tightly to hold her legs together. At the same time, Olivia was reciting a list of numbers and directions as the safe was opened by the obvious leader of the group.
“All done,” the man said as he opened the safe door, and his companion nodded. “Good – you two search the rest of the house while I take care of things here. Be quick – we don’t have a lot of time today.”
“Good – I don’t want you here any longer than you need to be,” Olivia said with a hint of anger as the masked man started to take cases out of the safe. To her surprise, he stopped and walked over to her, taking a roll of white tape out of his pocket as he did so.
“I don’t think you need to disturb me anymore, Mrs Channon,” he said as he tore a strip off and smoothed it over Olivia’s red lips. She tired moving her mouth round, with little success, and was forced to watch as he emptied the contents of the safe into the large tool bag. His colleagues also returned, carrying a bag that rattled as they placed it alongside the other contents of the bag. Looking over at Jennifer, she saw how frightened her maid was, and started to feel some sympathy for her predicament as well.
“Close your eyes.”
Olivia looked back up as the leader held another wide strip of tape in his hands. “Close your eyes,” he repeated, and she realised with a sense of horror that he intended to put the tape over them as a blindfold. She tried to call out, but the only response she got was one of the other masked men walking round and holding her head in her hands as he came closer, the strip starting to obscure her vision...
Jennifer watched as the man smoothed the tape over her employer’s eyes, before he tore another strip off and walked over, holding the long length in front of him in his gloved hands. “Are you going to give us any trouble,” he said with a smile playing on his lips, and Jennifer shook her head before closing her eyes and waiting for the pulling on her skin as the tape went over her eyelids.
As she sat there, Olivia was silently hoping that the next thing she heard would be the sound of the doors closing as the intruders left. To her surprise and horror, what she heard was the sounds of bottles being opened and the three men sitting down to talk. She wondered what was happening, and even if there was something more going on. Was she going to be kidnapped, held for ransom until Derek came up with the money? Or was there something else on their minds, something infinitely worse...
How long passed she wasn’t sure, but to her even greater surprise the talking continued until the front door bell rang. She could hear a muffled scream from Jennifer, and started to try and call out herself, but for her efforts she felt the cold metal of something against her head and a voice whispering “Shut up”. She listened as the front door opened, a conversation was dimly heard, and then the door closing. After that – silence.
The UPS van drove into the depot, and a she got out the delivery man could see the car parked in the visitor’s space, and the two men talking ot hsi supervisor. Looking up, he called out “Jack – can I have a word?”
“I just need to go somewhere first,” he said as he walked towards the toilet block. Waling round the back, he took out his mobile phone.
“It’s me – the police are here. I think they may have begun to cotton on to the way we work. What do you want to do?”