It was, for the time, one of the most audacious and unprecedented crimes to hit the small town of Never Binding – but the repercussions of the Night of the Maximum Ransoms were played out for years to come…
The year was 1978, it was May the First, and as part of the town celebrations of May Day the good and the great of this fair town were gathering at the town hall for a formal dinner. One of those good and great were Marjorie Daws, the mother of the current mayor of Never Binding. A proud woman in her late sixties, she had snow white hair, but was one of those modern thinking women who liked to buck the fashion trends of her generation.
And so it was, at seven o’clock on that night, she towelled herself off after a long bath – having taken great care to ensure her carefully arranged hair do was not disturbed – and put on a tight red dress, with long sleeves and a skirt that came to her knees. She then sat down and pulled on a pair of white leather boots, which hugged her lower legs as they came to her knees. Finally, she fastened a large brooch to the front of her dress, over her throat, and smiled.
“Who says I can’t be fashionable,” she said to herself as she put of her fur coat, and collected her purse as she left the house, locked the door, and walked to where the chauffer was waiting by the car door. She didn’t even notice the Hillman Imp that was parked a short distance away, and followed the limousine.
“Marjorie darling – a daring outfit for you, I must say,” Lady Constance Bright said as she greeted Marjorie at the door of the town hall. The wife of the local landowner, she was on her mid-fifties, and wore a silk maxi-dress with a scoop neckline, the material a collage of gold, black, purples and browns in a floral type pattern.
“But of course, Constance” Marjorie said as she handed her coat into the cloakroom, “I take it the men are all at the Lodge?”
“What do you think – come on in, we’re just getting started,” Constance said as Marjorie walked in, talking to some of the other guests. There was Gertrude Hammerstein, the bank manager’s wife, her dark hair cut short, and wearing a maxi-dress of cream cotton with a green leaf pattern that Marjorie could have sworn she saw on the wallpaper of a friend’s house.
Then there was Hortense du Pre, the jeweller’s wife. Her gold brown hair was cut and held in a light perm so tight a whole can of Silvirkrin hairspray must have been used on it, but it was her dress, a technicoloured mass of swirls with a hem just off the floor, revealing her white sandals. She was with Clarisse, her grey hair held in a chignon, her white sleeveless dress with a coloured floral print, whatever was on her feet hidden by the long dress.
“Oh wonderful, another boring night,” Marjorie thought to herself, and then she spotted another woman on the far side of the room, wearing like her a pair of knee length white boots. She was wearing a short sleeved purple dress with a silver rectangle under the point of her V-necked collar, with short brown hair, and looked as if she was not sure why she was there.
“Hi,” she said as she walked over, grabbing two drinks from a passing waiter, “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before. New to the area?”
“Not really no,” the woman said as she accepted a drink, “I’m Harriet Cole – my husband is the District Grand Master for the Lodge, and he is at their meeting, so Her Ladyship invited me here. I have to say, though, it’s…”
Harriet nodded as she and Marjorie sipped their drinks. “It is, yes, it needs a little excitement…”
“HANDS IN THE AIR, ALL OF YOU!”
The room turned as one, some of the women screaming as the group of men walked in. All were wearing boiler suits, black gloves, and balaclavas which only allowed their eyes and mouths to be seen – and while some carried shotguns with the barrels cut down to the stock, others carried large holdalls.
“YOU HEARD ME – HANDS IN THE AIR, AGAINST THE WALL, ALL OF YOU!”
Marjorie and Harriet looked at each other as Lady Constance walked over, and said “how dare you – do you know who I am?”
“SOMEONE WHO NEEDS OT SHUT THE FUCK UP, AND GET OVER THERE!” The man who had bene shouting pushed his sawn-off shotgun against Lady Constance, as she visibly paled and backed up against the wall. The other ladies were staring at the men as one of them put the bag down, and took out a large roll of sticking plaster as well as lengths of thin brown cord.
“YOU FOUR” the leader said as he pointed at four of the women, including Hortense and Clarice, “STEP FORWARD, TRUN ROUND, PTU YORU HANDS BEHIDN YOUR BACK.”
Marjorie watched as they did this, and then two of the man used the thin cords to secure their wrists together behind their backs, before they were turned round and strips of sticking plaster pressed over their mouths.
“YOU WILL BE TAKEN OUT OF HERE, AND KEP SOMEWHERE UNTIL YOUR HUSBANDS – ALL YOUR HUSBANDS – DO SOMETHING FOR US.”
“But I’m a widower,” Marjorie said out loud, as the leader walked over and looked at her. “Or in your case,” he whispered, in a tone that was even more dangerous than when he shouted, “your son. Any other questions?”
Marjorie shook her head as the first group were taken out, trying not to cry as he shouted “YOU FOUR, YOUR TURN – DO THE SAME!”
“I know you said you wanted some excitement,” Harriet whispered to Marjorie, “but I think this is overstepping the mark a little bit…”
The last four in the room were Marjorie, Harriet, Lady Constance and Gertrude, the four of them looking at each other as they were turned round, and their arms pulled behind their backs. Marjorie looked over her shoulder as the thin cord was pulled round her wrists, rubbing against her skin as it was tightened, but she knew better than to try and complain – especially after she was spun round and the plaster stuck over her mouth, the adhesive pulling on her skin as she looked at the other four.
“Get them out of here,” the masked man said as the four gagged women were walked out of the building, and into a van parked outside, Constance mumbling “Uhxphhctmhthshtthrr?”
“Just sit the fuck down,” another of the masked men said as the four women were pushed down onto the floor, and then more lengths of the brown cord were used to bind their ankles together. For Constance and Gertrude, the cords bit into the flesh of their ankles as well, but Marjorie and Harriet were glad they had some protection – although the sound of their boots rubbing was unusual.
After that, all they could do was look at each other as the van moved off…
Marjorie twisted round as two of the masked group carried her into a room in a larger building, and sat her on a camp bed before one of them took another length of the brown cord, and secured her legs together below her knees. She watched as they walked out, returning a few minutes later with Harriet between them. She watched as her new friend was sat on the cot bed next to her, then as her legs were secured, before the men left again.
“Whllthsshhssdhffrhnt,” Harriet mumbled as she twisted round. Marjorie nodded as Constance and Gertrude were carried in and sat on the other camp beds, the skirts of their dresses gathered around their legs as they were secured as well.
Each of them then gasped into their tape gags as the men took much longer lengths of rope and wrapped them round their upper bodies, forcing their arms against their sides as the ropes formed two bands that framed their chests. As Marjorie looked at Harriet, she was surprised at how clam she was, watching everything as the other two wriggled round.
“Don’t go anywhere,” one of them jeered as they left, the door locked behind them as all four looked at each other.
“Shwwtddhwdhhnn,” Gertrude said as she wriggled round, the ropes rubbing on the material stretched over her chest.
“Hnddwhhrhhh,” Constance mumbled in response. Marjorie was twisting round as well, trying to find some way to get free, but as she looked at Harriet she saw she was staying perfectly still, but the way she was twisting her jaw and mouth, it was as if she was trying to find some way to remove the sticking plaster over her mouth.
“Whrruhdhnn,” Marjorie mumbled as she watched, and then saw how the corner of the sticking plaster was coming loose from Harriet’s face. The other woman looked over at her and nodded as Marjorie stood up and started to shuffle over, ignoring the strange way she felt as the rope rubbed on her chest, and then turned round as she used her fingers to start to peel the brown fabric away.
It seemed to take an eternity, but eventually she managed to pull the plaster away from her mouth, Harriet coughing as she said “thanks – that was getting a little difficult to bear. Sit down – I’ll try and get it away from your mouth as well.”
“Now why would you do that?”
All four looked over as the masked man stood in the doorway, and came in with two others, one of them pushing a trolley with water and food.
“Come on – you have us in a locked room, who’s going to hear us?”
“Fair point – untie them, let them eat, drink, talk. Their husbands – and daughter – are getting the message now anyway.”
As the others nodded, the two men untied their arms and wrist, allowing them to peel the plaster away from their mouths as they grunted.
“What about our legs,” Marjorie said as she looked down, the man nodding as they were released as well.
“Don’t try anything,” the third man said as they left, locking the door behind them again.
“So have I got this right – this gang has kidnapped us all to get our families to do something?”
“Looks that way,” Harriet said as she picked up a glass and poured some water into it. “Might as well eat and drink, we are going nowhere.”
“But who are they,” Gertrude asked.
“No idea – but it is an ingenious plan,” Harriet said quietly. “I know you’re probably all a little scared…”
“And you’re not,” Lady Constance said quietly as she ate one of the sandwiches.
“Oh I didn’t say that,” Harriet said as she looked round the room, “but it’s not my first time on this roundabout.”
“IT’s not? Then what happened the other time?”
“Times – and that’s not important right now. Look – seriously, there is nothing you can do in this situation, except wait, and hope your husbands – or son – don’t do anything stupid. At least we have some food and water – sometimes they don’t even supply that.”
“But to kidnap us – all of us,” Gertrude said, “that’s a certain level of Chutzpah.”
“Perhaps, but as I said, audacious,” Harriet said with a smile. “Also – when they come back, I think we will be tied and gagged again. Want to know the secret to coping?”
As the other three nodded, Harriet said in all seriousness “don’t try to resist, don’t panic, and remain calm. I know it hurts – I wish they hadn’t used this rope – but if you do that, you’ll be fine…”
“Shhwhthnnhhh,” Marjorie said as the plaster was smoothed over her mouth. All four of them had indeed been rebound, their hands behind their backs, bands of the thin rope above and below their chest, while their ankles and legs had been secured as before. The other three already had brown pads over their mouths, as the masked man looked at them.
“The good news is your family have done what we asked,” the masked man said, “so you’ll be returned to them soon. I hope you enjoyed your time with us.”
“Nthhrhlleenhh,” Harriet said as she winked at the other three, the men shaking their heads as one of them poured a clear liquid onto a cloth.
“Breath in,” the man said as the pad was pressed over Marjorie’s nose, her eyes opened wide before they slowly closed again….
“MUM! MUM, WAKE UP!!!”
Marjorie slowly opened her eyes as she saw her son standing over her, his bow tie hanging down from the open collar of his shirt. She shook her head and said “Whhrhmmmeee?”
“You’re home – I was told you had been brought here,” he said as he peeled the tape away, “are you all right?”
“I think so – but I need to get these ropes off and changed. Can you help with that?”
As he nodded and started to untie her, Marjorie sighed and then rubbed her wrists, as her telephone rang. She stood up slowly and walked to the hallway, picking up the phone as she said “Marjorie Daws.”
“Marjorie, this is Harriet. I take it you’ve been freed now?”
“I have – you?”
“My husband is here. Look – the police will want to talk to you, but I’d like to meet you tomorrow. If you can…”
Marjorie opened the door of the house and looked around as she walked in, her brown great coat covering her grey dress, the heels of her shoes clicking on the floor. She walked over to the desk where a young woman was sitting, and said “Err – I’m looking for Harriet Cole?”
“Ah – you must be Mrs Daws,” she said as she picked up a telephone handset and pressed a number. “Mrs Cole? Your two o’clock is here.”
“What is this place anyway,” Marjorie said as she saw a man walk across the hallway, looking round as he did so.
“It’s my place of business.”
Marjorie stared at Harriet as she came out, wearing a black leather waistcoat over a crisp white blouse, leather trousers and long black boots with the legs tucked into them.
“As I said, not my first time tied up. Angela, darling, make some coffee and bring it to the office will you? This way Marjorie…”