Linlithgow is a small town, where a lot of the kids knew each other, and for those who were in the fifth year at the local Academy January brought the only thing worse than sitting the exams each May – the mock ‘H’ and ‘O’ grade exams, which traditionally were harder than the real thing. In the start of the eighties, that was no different, so when Hannah was walking along the high street with her mother on her way to the school there was only one topic of conversation.
“I know you hate them, but you have to do well in these,” Daisy said as their boots crunched on the remnant of the snow from the previous day. She had a heavy black coat in, the material of her white skirt flowing from below the hem to a few inches above the ground, where the leather of her boots was visible.
“I know, I know Mum, but I never knew English could be so difficult.”
“Persevere, dear,” her mother said as they stopped outside the small art gallery she ran. As Daisy opened the door, she asked “What are your plans for your free period this afternoon?”
“I thought I might bring Susan home to do some work on our Maths paper – will you be in?”
It was a Wednesday, which was early closing day in the town when most of the stores closed up.
“I should be back, but I won’t bother you – I’ve the banking and accounts to do.”
“All right, Mum – see you later,” Hannah said as she waved at her mother’s back. Pulling up the collar of her heavy woollen coat, she walked quickly past the Vennel flats and turned up the hill the led to the Academy.
The clock in the common room was showing eight forty as she came in, opening her coat and placing it on a desk as her friends came in. She was a plain looking girl, with the first signs of her adult body showing to show her seventeen years, and her short light brown hair was cut in a bob. The day was cold, so she was dressed in a light blue blouse over a roll necked sweater with different colours of horizontal stripes, a long blue denim skirt and knee length brown boots. She chatted with the rest of the class as the bell rang and the year head came in to take the register.
The morning passed slowly – lessons were all about the exams, while for Daisy business was slow, even for a Wednesday. The curse of the small town is the easy going lifestyle, and the days of it being firmly established as a commuter town for Edinburgh were some years off. Eventually Daisy decided to leave early, collecting the week’s receipts in a plastic bag and storing them in her large leather bag before shutting up shop.
She turned and headed past the Cross towards the railway station, turning under the bridges and up the hill to the canal that led to the newer private housing estate. Making her way up the hill, she waved at the people she passed before coming to a detached house that stood halfway up the hill of a crescent road. Fishing a set of keys out of her bag, she opened the door and made her way in, closing it behind her as she placed her bag on a table beside the phone and took her coat off. As she hung the coat up, she noticed that the wire connecting the telephone set to the wall had been pulled out. She stood there, wondering what was going on, and not hearing anything until the gloved hand was placed over her mouth and she heard a voice saying “Not a peep out of you now.”
“So, are you still up for this?”
Hannah directed her question to the tall, thin girl sitting opposite her in the dining hall. Susan was her best friend, and easily the most beautiful girl in the class who managed to make all the boys’ heads turn. She was dressed today to do precisely that, in a tight blue v-necked sweater over a white blouse with a large collar and the top two buttons undone, a white silk scarf tied in a band around her neck. Her legs were encased in blue jeans that looked as if they had been sprayed on, the legs below the knees covered by a pair of dark burgundy red boots.
“Yeah, I’m up for it. When do you want to go?”
Hannah looked at her watch. “After fifth period – we can walk along the canal and get back more quickly that way.”
Daisy looked at the rear of the man as he left the room. The only sound in the house was the ticking from the clock on the wall, the sound of a kettle switching off, and the squeak from her boots as she tried to move them under the loops of rope securing them to the front legs of the chair she was sitting in. she glanced at the clock, hoping he would be gone before a half hour had passed…
“How hard do you think the exam will be?”
Susan was looking at Hannah as they walked along the canal bank, the collar of her denim jacket turned up to keep the cold out and her bag slung over her shoulder. Hannah smiled by way of reply.
“Who knows – I just want it to be over with.” The two girls passed the newly opened canal museum before turning to cross the canal and head up to Hannah’s house. As they climbed the hill, and Hannah retrieved her keys, she said “Have you heard about the job at Templetons?”
“Yeah – but not for me. I know David and Mike work there, but until the exams are over…”
“Yeah,” Hannah said as she opened the door and the two girls walked in. She saw her mother’s bag on the table, and called out “Mum?”
There was a muffled sound and a knock in the front room, which made Hannah look at Susan. “Mum?” she repeated as she opened the door to the room.
Daisy was staring at her from the chair in which she was sitting, the lower half of her face covered by the top of her black jumper. The top buttons of the white blouse she was wearing were undone, and the matching white skirt disarranged over her lap and legs. That wasn’t what caught Hannah’s attention, however.
What did was the fact her mother’s arms were pulled behind the back of the chair, and the way her booted ankles were lashed to the front legs of the chair she was sitting in. As she came in, she saw the loops of white rope around her mother’s waist and lap, and put her hands to her mouth.
“Susan, get out of here and call the police,” she said as she turned round, only to see that Susan was not alone. She was standing stock still, as the tall man behind her had one gloved hand over her mouth and the other holding her arm in a tight grip.
“I suggest, wee girl, that you keep your trap shut and sit down over there,” the man said as he indicated the couch with his head. He was tall and strong, with a stocking pulled over his head, and as Hannah looked at both her mother and Susan she slowly and nervously nodded her head.
“that’s right,” the man said as Hannah sat down, “and you’re gonna do as ye’re told as well, aren’t you?”
He whispered into Susan’s ear as he said this, removing his hand to stroke her shoulder length black hair, “no sudden noises or movements, right?”
“Right,” Susan said in a shaky voice as she looked back at him. “That’s good – now, I want you to take that pretty scarf off from around your neck, and then I want you to tie it into your mouth to help you to be quiet. Understand?”
Susan looked at both Hannah and Daisy, Hannah looking frigid and the fear clearly visible in her mother’s eyes. She reached up and undid the knot at the side of her neck, holding the scarf on the band it was folded in before pulling the centre of it into her mouth and tying the ands together at the base of her neck.
“Good – now, you,” he said turning to Hannah and throwing her a scarf that she recognised as her mothers, “fold that up into a ball and stuff that into your mouth, then turn the neck of your jumper up to cover your mouth.”
Hannah looked at her mother, who nodded in answer to her unasked question, before folding the brown and green scarf up and pushing it into her mouth. “All the way in,” the man said as Hannah pushed the last folds behind her teeth, before reaching to her neck and rolling the top of her jumper up over her mouth, covering her jaw until the hem lay under her nose.
“I was upstairs having a look round,” the man said as he sat Susan down next to Hannah, “but I could hear you talking some way away. Your mother here thought I would be gone, but you have so many good things for me to look through I was busy. Still, I can take a little break now, while I decide what to do with you two.”
Susan and Hannah looked at each other, knowing their revision was not going to happen while something else took place. The man looked at them, grinning though his stocking, and then seemed to come to a decision. He stood up, taking the girls by the arms, and said “you stay there, mummy – I’m going to make the girls nice and comfy, and then we can have a wee chat.”
Daisy screamed at him as he led Hannah and Susan away, both girls looking at the bound and gagged woman as they were led up the wooden staircase. She tried to work the top of her jumper down, but the thin band of clear tape the man had used to secure the material around her head was making that impossible.
It was two hours later when Ginny opened the front door and came back in from her job. Hannah’s older sister by two years, she worked as a clerk at the local bank, and was dressed in a silver silk blouse over a grey roll neck sweater, grey slacks and knee length grey suede boots. She could hear music playing in her sister’s room, and as the song continued she made her way into the kitchen.
We don’t need no education,
We don’t need no thought control…
She put the kettle on the gas ring, lit the heat underneath and went to the kitchen cupboard.
“Do you want a coffee, Mum?” she called out as she looked for the jar, but closing the cupboard revealed not Daisy, but a tall well built man with a stocking over his head who simply said “Hello there.”
Ginny stared back at him, slowly putting the coffee jar on the work surface and looking at the kettle as it started to whistle. He seemed to know what she was thinking, as he said “I would not advise that – I have your mother and sister already hostage, and if you want them to stay safe then you will do exactly as I say.
“What is this, a robbery?” she said as she looked round, spotting the unfamiliar bag on the kitchen table.
“Yes – and no. Are you going to do as I tell you?”
“Only if you let me see the others and talk to them.”
The masked man smiled as he said “Fair enough – now, turn round and put your hands behind your back.” As he said this, he held up a roll of what looked like clear packing tape. Ginny slowly turned round and watched over her shoulder as he quickly crossed and taped her wrists together behind her back, then took the tape around her waist to secure the bound arms in the small of her back.
“Now, let’s go and see your mother first,” he said as he took Ginny by the arm and led her through the connecting door to the front room, where the blinds had been drawn. She could dimly see the outline of her mother as she sat in the chair, her head down and her eyes closed as her greying hair fell about her face.
“Mum,” she softly said as Daisy raised her head and opened her eyes, slowly at first and then wider as she recognised her older daughter. The sound of the town clock striking the hour came through the windows as she started to struggle and scream at her.
“Please, let me talk to her,” Ginny said to the man. He took her by the arm again, and sat her in a chair facing Daisy before walking over and slowly removing the tape from around her head. Folding the top of her jumper down, he pulled out a patterned scarf from her mouth and placed it on the table.
“Oh god, Ginny - where has he taken Hannah and her friend? The last I saw he took them up the stairs, and since then I’ve heard nothing.”
“I’ll show her they’re safe in a few minutes,” the masked man said as he poured a glass of water form a carafe on the table. “Your mouth must be parched – here, drink this slowly.”
“Can we have the light on – I can hardly see,” Ginny said as he held the glass to her mother’s lips. Nodding, he put the glass down and switched on a lamp. Ginny could now see the way her mother had been secured to the chair with rope, and asked “how long?”
Daisy looked at the clock on the wall. “Five hours now – and I don’t know why he’s still here. He has everything we may want, and Dad…”
“Is on a business trip and will not be back until late tonight,” the man said as he came back over. The two women stared at him as he sat down. “This was never just about you, mummy – it’s about your daughter here as well.”
“Me?” Ginny said with a shocked look on her face. “Why me?”
“Three of my friends are visiting the house of three of your colleagues,” he said as he stood up and retrieved the roll of clear tape from where he had left it. “Once you’ve seen your sister, I’m taking you on a trip back to the bank, and then we’ll see what we can do. In the meantime, I need to make sure your mother doesn’t scream out for help, so open up dear.”
“Please, you don’t have to do that,” Daisy said as he took a pad of white cloth out of his pocket and folded it neatly.
“Yes – I do,” he said as he held her nose, forcing her to open her mouth wide and allowing him to push the packing in behind her teeth. He then tore a strip off the roll and smoothed it over her closed lips, adding several more to seal the gag in place.
“I think we can leave your jumper down now,” the man said as he took Ginny and led her up the staircase. There were four doors at the top, and Ginny could hear some banging behind the one that led to her sister’s bedroom.
“Shall we?” the man said as he pushed open the door to allow Ginny to see inside. She had expected to see Hannah in there, so her surprise on seeing Susan lying on the bed was total.
The young girl was lying on her back, her arms raised above her head so that her wrists could be secured to the headboard. Ginny recognised the thin grey tie that Hannah wore with one of her outfits wrapped around the frightened girl’s wrists and tied firmly in place.
She could also hear the squeak of leather on leather, where one of her sister’s belts had been used to fasten Susan’s ankles together, the brown soles of her boots clearly visible, and another canvas belt used to secure her legs together. The thumping had come from Susan throwing her legs around on the bed, trying to loosen her bonds. The masked man walked over and adjusted them so that they were firmly secured again.
The white scarf that was in her mouth now had a dark stain in the centre where the saliva was starting to soak through. Susan glared up at the man as he took the roll of clear tape and used it to secure the cloth into her mouth.
“Where’s my sister,” Ginny demanded as the man closed the door on Susan.
“In your room, of course,” the man said as he opened another bedroom door. Ginny looked round as she was taken in, but could not see anything. She could, however, hear the sound of something in her walk-in cupboard. The intruder realised she had heard the noise, and opened the doors with a swift motion.
Hannah was seated on the floor, staring up at her older sister with a look of fear and horror in her eyes. The clear tape had been wrapped around the neck of her jumper as a way of securing the cloth into her mouth, but Ginny could clearly see the bumps under the tightly stretched fabric.
She was sat in a position that had her back up against a dividing panel and her arms wrapped around her knees over the denim skirt. A long woollen scarf had been used to secure her arms to her sides above her breasts, and a long grey chiffon scarf below them. Looking down, she could see the hem of Hannah’s skirt was pulled up by another of her scarves tied around her legs below her knees, and her ankles were secured over the brown leather with a bandana tied around them and a second smaller scarf between her legs. Ginny guessed her wrists were also secured by another scarf under her knees, out of sight due to the way she was sitting.
“It was amazing what I found when I was searching your rooms,” the man said as Ginny looked back at him, “So when your sister and her friend turned up, I only had to think for a minute about what I was going to use.”
“Are you all right,” Ginny said as she looked at her little sister. Hannah nodded, the cloth in her mouth preventing any understandable speech coming out. Ginny turned and looked at the masked man.
“All right – now what?” she said in a defiant tone. Over the radio another song had started playing.
She said, I can't believe it
You can't, possibly mean it
Don't we, all want the same thing
Well, who said anything about love?
The way he looked at her made Ginny suddenly a little afraid. As he approached her and put his hand around her neck, she said “no, you don’t mean,” as Hannah screamed from the cupboard.
“Stop panicking – I need to take you with me, and I need you to be quiet for the trip,” the man said as he untied the knot that was holding a grey silk scarf in place as an Alice band in Ginny’s hair. As the scarf came away, allowing her brown hair to fall over her own face, the man shook it out and folded it into a small square.
“Your turn – open up,” he said as he held the pad in front of Ginny’s mouth. Scowling at him, she allowed the material to be pushed in, closing her lips over the front as the last corner was pushed behind her teeth. He then tore several strips of clear tape off, smoothing them over her mouth and jaw so that unless you looked closely, it seemed as if she just had her mouth closed. He then went back to the cupboard, smiling at Hannah as he took a woollen poncho off a hanger and closing the door on her.
Coming back to Ginny, he placed the item over her head, so that it came down over her waist, covering her bound arms. He pulled the material down, the little woollen balls at the hem hitting against her legs, before grunting in satisfaction.
“We’ll take your car,” the man said as he guided Ginny out of the room, closing the door behind him. As they descended the staircase, she glanced over at her mother, staring back through the open door of the front room.
As the man picked up the set of car keys Ginny had left on the table, and opened the front door, another song came on the radio.
Babe, I love you so
I want you to know
that I'm going to miss your love
the minute you walk out that door
so please don't go
don't go, don't go away
please don't go
don't go, I'm begging you to stay
Daisy screamed as the door closed, frantically trying to find again a way to get herself free. She looked over her shoulder at the rope that held her crossed wrists together, secured in turn to the spar that went across the back of the chair, and a tear started to roll down her cheek. She kept trying to push herself up and down in the seat, but the ropes around her lap and waist were too firmly tied to allow much movement.
A half hour passed as she tried to do this, and then a thought struck her. She had been so focused on getting her body free, but what about her feet? She leant forward as far as she could and looked at the way her booted ankles had been lashed to the chair, rope around both leather and wood and also between them. The baggy nature of her leg coverings meant the rope was firmly secured, but not as tightly as they could have been, and Daisy started to gingerly see how far she could move her leg up and down within the boot.
To her delight, she found that there was some give, and she was able to pull her leg slightly up. An idea started to form in her mind, as she slowly started to twist her left foot round in a rhythmic motion.
In the upstairs bedroom, Hannah was sitting quietly, picking as best she could on the knot that was keeping the red scarf the intruder had used to bind her hands in place. It was slow, painful, depressing, but she was beginning to think she could feel a lessening of the pressure on the inside of her wrist, so she persevered.
The clock on the main room wall struck eight as Daisy slowly worked the ropes loose around her ankle, until she reached the stage where she could slowly pull her left leg out of her boot and past the ropes. She stretched her sock covered foot out, shaking it up and down to try and stop the prickly feeling in her foot, before turning her attention to her right leg and starting to twist that round as well.
Hannah, by this time, had finally managed to work her hands free from the scarf and was busy untying the grey scarf around her legs. As the material of her skirt fell loosely for the first time in over three hours, she reached up and started to pull the tape away from her jaw. She noticed as she did so the threads from her sweater that were caught in the tape, but put that to one side against the relief of finally being able to pull down her sweater neck, stained with lipstick and saliva, and remove the scarf from her own mouth.
“Mum! Susan!” she called out in a hoarse voice, but no audible reply came back. Quickly untying her ankles, she pushed herself up into a kneeling position and looked through the wooden slats of the cupboard door. The room outside was in darkness, but she could see the hasp that was holding the door closed. Looking round, she found a wire coat hanger lying on the floor. Hannah fed that through the gap between the doors, taking it up until it lifted the hasp and she was able to pull the concertina doors open.
She slowly stood up, fighting the feeling of nausea that was sweeping over her and the cold from the surrounding air. Opening the bedroom door, she looked cautiously round and made her way down to her own room, where she opened the door and let herself in.
“HNHH!” Susan screamed through her gag as Hannah put a finger to her lips. “Quiet – I think he’s gone, but I’m not sure” she said as she pulled the scarves over her head and looked at her friend. Leaning over, she pulled the sodden silk scarf from her mouth and allowed it drop over her bare neck.
“Quickly,” Susan said, “untie my wrists and go and help your mother. I can get myself free after that.” Hannah reached up and untied the thin grey band from the headboard and her wrists, allowing Susan to sit up and rub her bare skin. That was when they heard the crashing nose from downstairs.
“Go!” Susan said as Hannah ran out of the room and down the staircase. Looking in the front room, she saw her mother kneeling on the ground, the chair over her back and a moaning noise coming from her mouth. She ran over and managed to right the chair, noticing that her mother had managed to wriggle both her feet free from the chair legs and the ropes hanging loosely around her leather boots.
“Are you all right,” she said as she peeled the tape away from her mouth and withdrew the now dark grey cloth.
“I am now,” Daisy said as she looked up, a small trickle of blood running from a graze on her head. “Can you untie me – my arms feel as if they are going to fall off.”
Hannah looked behind the back of the chair, and started to work on the ropes that held her mother’s wrists against the wooden back. As she managed to loosen them, she heard tow sounds – that of Jane gingerly walking down the stairs, and the front door opening to her father saying “Why is everything dark?”
“Dad,” Hannah shouted, “Go next door and ask them to call the police – and hurry, Ginny is still with them!”
The Gazette had a full page headline the following week.
DARING RAID ON TOWN BANK
Last Wednesday saw four local families held hostage in their own homes as raiders forced staff to open the branch of XXX Bank and clear the safe out for them. Detectives are looking for……
“Are you two all right?” was all both Hannah and Susan had heard since the incident. The only person who had left them alone was Jackie, another girl in her class, and Hannah knew why – her father was Ginny’s boss, and she and her mother had also been bound and gagged while he was forced to open the office.
She walked over and sat beside the blonde haired girl as she wrote in her book. “If you ever need to talk,” she said, and was greeted with a smile in response. “Thanks – maybe later,” she whispered as she turned her attention back to her English assignment.
“I suppose one good thing came of this,” Susan said as Hannah sat next to her.
“Yes – we missed the exam.”