It was between six and seven on a wintry evening on a quiet street in an upper middle class suburb. It had been raining earlier but this had stopped.
A woman was making her way along the footpath in the gathering dusk. She was in her late thirties, perhaps forty but trim, firmly built and clearly very fit. She was wearing sensible shoes, a belted trench coat, buttoned to the throat and carried a large satchel bag with a wide shoulder strap. She had an oval face which was partly obscured by the large head scarf she had tied firmly under her chin. This concealment was intentional. In appearance she looked like an office worker on her way home after work, perhaps taking something bought during the day. This was also her intention.
In reality she was on her way to a certain address to remove some items she knew were going to be delivered there later that night. Three people would be involved, none of whom knew she was coming or expected her. This was her occupation, unauthorized removal of requested goods for interested, and paying, parties. In short, theft to order. As a rule, with three people to be subdued she would normally have worked with a partner but the job had come up at very short notice and anyway, she felt she could successfully deal with all three parties on her own, provided she could handle each separately. She was a very accomplished professional.
She reached the targeted address, noted approvingly the house was set well back from the street and there were several large concealing trees in the front yard, though the front door light was on. Clearly a visitor, certainly not herself, was expected this evening. She paused, put on a pair of large dark glasses, then walked quickly down the path and pressed the doorbell.
The house was owned by Amelia Amherst, a wealthy lady of fifty whose financial interests were wide and varied. They frequently involved exchanges with similar people and groups. And tonight an expected caller was making a special courier trip to deliver some documents that rival interests would have done anything to lay their hands on. Great efforts had been made to keep this secret but these had not been entirely successful. Which was the reason this unexpected raincoated caller was making a surprise visit nearly an hour before the official deliverer.
Mrs Amherst was poring over some papers connected with the transaction at her dining room table when her maid/companion went to answer the doorbell. This was Lucy, a thin wiry woman, aged thirty five with short dark hair and a cheerful smiling expression. She wore the black, good quality uniform her employer insisted on which had short white trimmed sleeves, a spotless white collar and a wide black belt which emphasized her narrow figure. A tight fitting white cap, another of Mrs Amherst's insistences, completed the picture. She knew an important visitor was expected at eight and she wondered who this unknown visitant, arriving nearly an hour before, could be.
Lucy opened the door and looked at this caller wearing a trench coat and dark glasses. Who was she?
"Good evening Lucy," the woman spoke softly and reassuringly, "I have some business with your mistress. But first I have some to do with you." And with that she produced a small black revolver from her raincoat pocket, held it an inch or so from Lucy's nose in a leather gloved hand, pushed the astonished maid back inside the house and deftly kicked the door closed behind her.
"Now Lucy, I must insist you be quiet. I don't want to have to use this." She waved the small gun slightly, "And anyway nothing is worth being shot or hit over the head for." She smiled to reassure the servant who was rapidly becoming frightened. "I'm sure you're a sensible woman, just turn around so I can tie your wrists." And with that she gently but firmly spun the speechless maid around so that she faced the wall.
Quickly she produced a prepared length of soft white rope out out of the satchel hanging from her shoulder, crossed the maid's hands behind her back and looped them firmly and expertly. She was securing the binding with two firm knots when Lucy regained the power of speech.
"Mrs Amherst won't like this," she faltered, "She doesn't like unauthorized callers. She..."
The woman gave a soft laugh. "I'll look after her too in the fullness of time. But first I have to deal with you. And it's time to deprive you of speech." She took a prepared gag out of the satchel. It was a wad of soft folded toweling, tied in the middle with more of the white rope. She held it up to the by now, very alarmed maid's face. "Now, open your pretty mouth." Lucy's eyes bulged.
"Please," She whispered, "I'll be quiet. There's no need to put that in my mouth. I won't say anything. I'll..."
Her captor laughed. "It'll be alright. Just let your jaws relax and you'll be quite comfortable. Now, open wide." And with that she forced the wad between Lucy's trembling lips and then firmly tied the loose rope ends at the back of her neck. "There," she smiled, "Nice and secure." In reality she was quite relieved the maid had not tried to attract attention by screaming or shouting. The appearance of her employer before she was properly subdued would have complicated the operation greatly.
Swiftly the woman set to work to complete the maid's bondage. Two more lengths of rope used to secure her upper arms to her body, and securely cinched under the armpits. Then another section around her slim waist to hold her wrists and forearms. She bound deftly and with care, for she prided herself on her neat ropework and knots. Finally Lucy looked like a black package, securely tied with white string.
"There," she said on completion, stepping back to admire her handiwork, "All wrapped up and ready for shipment. Now let's go and see your mistress." Lucy looked at her with widened eyes. Perhaps she was puzzled at this archaic reference to her employer. Taking her firmly by the arm the invader marched her down the hall. She took her satchel with her.
Amelia Amherst was, as mentioned, a woman of fifty. Her figure was filling somewhat with advancing years and the good life. Her short brown hair now greying but she herself still active and very vigorous. She wore a calf length grey skirt and and an expensive white blouse.
She was seated at her dining room table, carefully studying some papers she wanted to discuss with her expected guest later in the evening when the pair entered. She did not even look up. "You were a long time at the door Lucy," she remarked, "Who was it? Some of those religious people?"
"Good evening Amelia," said the intruder, "I'm paying you a visit this evening. As you can see, I've already met Lucy and now it's your turn. Would you please stand up."
Amelia's head jerked up at the strange voice. The woman pushed the bound maid into the space beside her chair. She took one look at Lucy and the newcomer and jumped to her feet - involuntarily doing what she had been asked to do.
"Who are you?!" she said in a loud voice, "And what've you done to my maid? Just what do you think you're doing?" The picture of outraged indignation. The woman smiled, though she could see that Amelia was not going to be as easily subdued as her employee.
"Who I am is not important," she said quietly, "And, as anyone can see, Lucy has been bound and gagged. As I am going to do to you. Since you have been so good as to stand up, would you now turn round and cross your wrists behind your back?"
"I'll do no such thing!" Amelia was by now full of vocal outrage. "How dare you! Get out of my house." She raised her arms, as if to attack the visitor. The invader smiled, reached into her raincoat pocket and brought out the revolver she had threatened Lucy with. With her other black leather gloved hand she produced a silencer which was deftly screwed onto the barrel of the weapon. This done, she raised the gun and pointed it directly into Amelia's face. Smiling, she held it there for several seconds, then swung it to one side and pressed the trigger. A muffled explosion occurred but no damage was done to the dining room.
"The first round is a blank cartridge," she explained, still smiling, "All the others are real. So do what I say. Turn around please."
Amelia calmed down. This woman obviously meant business. She lowered her hands and turned her back. And the uninvited visitor set to work. As with Lucy, she first crossed her wrists and tied them securely. Next, using more prepared lengths of white rope from the satchel, which she had conveniently placed on the dining room table, she tied the householder's upper arms. She worked with the same neatness and care as she had on the maid but this time used even more rope. She could envisage this captive struggling furiously to free herself the moment she was left unattended. Finally she was done.
"Well ladies," she addressed the bound pair, "Nicely tied up, aren't we. Only one thing more has to be done." She pulled two of the high backed wooden chairs out from the dining table, turned them around and pushed them so that the backs touched the table edge. These seats now faced the folding wooden doors into the lounge room a couple of metres away.
"Now," she smiled, "If you two girls would be so good as to sit down here," indicating the two chairs. Lucy obediently sat down. Amelia, still far from co-operative, had to be pushed onto her seat.
Placing the satchel on the floor, the woman knelt and tied both their ankles very securely. Next she lifted their skirts and bound their legs above the knee. She was even complimentary. "Nice pair of legs you have Lucy," she advised the maid. "You must be a real treasure to your boyfriend. He's Alex, isn't he."
This comment, which showed how carefully she had been briefed before she came, unsettled the already agitated and now worried Amelia. As yet still ungagged, she ventured to speak.
"I don't keep much money in the house," she said, " And there's not much in the way of valuables. I don't understand why you've come at all. Why don't you take what you can find and get out?" She was clinging to the hope that this was simply a house robbery and nothing to do with the very important business she had planned to do with her second caller of the evening. Who was now expected very shortly.
"I know what I'm doing," the raincoated visitor smoothed her bound victims' clothing and then stood up. "And it's high time you were gagged Amelia."
"That isn't necessary," the captive protested, "I'm not given to hysterics , and...." These were the last words Amelia Amherst was to say for some time. A prepared gag, such as the one used on Lucy was produced, was pushed into her already open mouth and secured. Lastly the woman used more rope to tie the waists of both women to the wooden backs of their chairs, thus effectively anchoring them in their seats.
"There," she said with satisfaction, stepping back, hands on hips and surveying both employer and maid, now both completely helpless. "But, time to get on with things."
Standing before her two captives, legs slightly apart, she took off her headscarf and put it neatly on the table. She had a thick head of black hair which looked like a wig. Which it was. She took off her dark glasses and then unbelted her raincoat. Undoing the buttons, from bottom to top, finally she pulled the heavy waterproof off completely, the proofed fabric rustling and crackling as she did so. And stood before them.
Both mistress and maid's eyes bulged at what the saw. Their captor was wearing a black maid's uniform, almost identical to the one Lucy was wearing. Belt, collar the same, down to the sheer black stockings Mrs Amherst insisted on. Only one thing was missing. The woman reached down, removed the maid's white cap and carefully fitted it onto her own head.
"I'm about to take over your duties for a while Lucy," she smiled, very clearly looking the part, "Don't worry, I'll be quite professional." Lucy and Amelia stared wide eyed over their gags. "Just one last thing to be done."
The intruder reached into her satchel and brought out four items of grey plastic. "Ear plugs," she explained, "It's best you don't hear what is said in the next hour." And with that she inserted them into the ears of the two captives. Mistress and maid, now deprived of hearing as well as liberty and speech, stared at each other. Lastly, the woman removed her black leather gloves, carefully put them away and put on a pair of white latex gloves from the satchel.
At that moment the front doorbell rang. The intruder went to answer it.
The arrival at the front door was the expected caller. She was Clara Hesketh, about the same age, fifty, as Amelia and of solid build and very well known in the world of discreet investment. She had a square determined face, blue rinsed short hair and wore a neat and expensive business suit. This evening she was wearing a nylon raincoat and rain hat (it had begun to rain again) and had a handbag on a long strap slung over one shoulder. She held, in both hands, a very expensive attache case which was the reason for her visit.
"Good evening Mrs Hesketh," said the impostor maid when she opened the door, "You are expected. Please come in." And smilingly stood aside. She had a professional manner that Lucy could only have approved of.
"You're not Lucy. Where is she," snapped the caller, a bluff and direct woman.
"Unfortunately Lucy's not available at the moment. I'm from Temporary Domestic." This was a well known local firm that arranged servants at short notice, and mentioning it showed how well this operation had been prepared for. "May I take your raincoat and hat?" She helped the visitor out of her wet waterproof and hung it in a nearby coat cupboard. Throughout this Clara kept at least one hand on her attache case. And she replaced her strap handbag over her shoulder.
"Where's Mrs Amherst?" she asked, looking around, "I thought she'd be here to meet me."
"She's tied up at the moment, but you'll see her shortly. Meanwhile, she's asked me to show you into the lounge. If you'll just come with me." The false maid set off down the hallway.
"The lounge?" grumbled Clara, "I thought we'd be in the dining room. We need a big table to look at these papers." But she followed the woman, still firmly holding her case.
Inside the lounge the pair stopped at a coffee table, not far from the wooden folding doors leading into the dining room. On it was the satchel the first caller had brought into the house. The maid indicated Clara should put her case on it and asked pleasantly ,"Won't you sit down?" pointing to a leather armchair nearby.
But by now Clara Hesketh was suspicious. She remained standing, still clutching her case. "It won't be big enough for what I want to do. Not with that satchel in the way. And where is Mrs Amherst anyway?"
"Well, she is tied up at the moment," smiled the fake maid, "And she ..."
"You keep saying that," interrupted the mistrustful Clara who was by now looking suspiciously at the maid's rubber gloved hands. Not the sort of thing a servant would normally wear. "I ask you again. Where is she? I demand you show me."
"Very well then," retorted the bogus maid, "See her, you shall." And with that she strode to the folding wooden doors and flung them open. There, not twelve feet away, bound, tied to their chairs and securely gagged sat Amelia Amherst and her maid. Unable to have heard any of this latest exchange due to their earplugs, they stared wide eyed at Clara who in turn gaped in astonishment at them.
"As you can see," smiled their captor, "Mrs Amherst is indeed tied up. And Lucy is very definitely not available. Unfortunately it has been necessary to deprive them of their liberty for a short while. And, also unfortunately, it will be necessary to do the same for you." As she said this she took the gun out of one of the large pockets of the maid's uniform and pointed it at the visitor.
After her initial surprise, Clara took all of this surprisingly calmly. She turned and looked quietly at the impostor maid. Her lips moved softly, "I wondered if it would ever come to something like this." This was itself a telling commentary on some of the financial dealings she got involved in. Silently, she did up the buttons of her business suit. "Well then," she said abruptly, "Am I to be bound and gagged as well?"
"I'm afraid so," said the woman, "But we don't need an audience for what we're going to do." She stepped to the open wooden doors and closed them abruptly. "And now, if you'd step over to this table, we'll get on with what we have to do." Clara did so with some reluctance.
The woman took the dangling shoulder handbag and the attache case out of her hands and put them on the coffee table next to the satchel. Clara endured this with resignation. Next, a length of white rope was produced and her wrists were swiftly and expertly tied behind her back. "Now," she was told, "If you'll sit down - this armchair looks the most comfortable - I'll finish you off." Thus carefully seated the captive had her ankles securely bound. "There," smiled her captor, obviously pleased that the immobilization of her victim had proceeded so quickly and without any problems, "All wrapped up and ready for the next step."
"You haven't tied me with anywhere near as much rope as the other two," Clara commented suspiciously, "Just what are you going to do?"
"That's because I'm going to put you to sleep. Don't worry. I'll use a perfectly harmless, hospital grade anesthetic, you'll sleep for about an hour and you'll be left untied when I go. Then you can go and release the other two."
The older woman looked far from happy about this but there was nothing she could do. The impersonator maid got a plastic box out of the satchel and took from it a prepared needle, cotton pad and bottle of antiseptic. She sterilized an area at the base of Clara's neck. Her patient looked very agitated. "Don't worry," she was assured, "It's quite safe and you'll be in bye-bye land in ten minutes." And she injected the drug, quickly and expertly. Clara hardly felt it.
Her eyelids began to droop within minutes but she was not ready to go out just yet. "I suppose," she murmured drowsily, "Transcontinental has sent you, haven't they?" naming a business rival.
"Possibly," smiled the woman. The truth was she had no idea who had ordered and was paying for this. Like all her assignments there was never any direct contact between client and operative. It was considered best so by all concerned. The drug worked quickly, within minutes of her eyes closing Clara was fast asleep. Meanwhile, her captor used the time to transfer the attache case to the satchel. She examined her victim's handbag and, taking a small camera, photographed the credit cards and some other documents she found there. The few banknotes inside, she left untouched.
The reality was that Clara had been injected with a very effective truth drug. After about fifteen minutes the woman took a list of prepared questions and asked them of the drugged businesswoman. She was skilled at this, the medication was powerful and the subject responded well. Her captor noted her answers and even made some personal inquiries - for possible future use. In half an hour she had obtained everything she needed from Clara Hesketh.
"Time to leave you darling," she said. Swiftly she untied the white ropes and stowed them away in the satchel. Next she made the unconscious visitor as comfortable as possible, settling her onto the soft leather of the armchair, putting a small cushion behind her head and even propping up her feet on a footstool she found on the other side of the lounge room.
"Goodbye Clara," she murmured, standing before her and picking up the satchel. "Nice to have made your acquaintance. You're an interesting person to talk to." Seemingly a reference to some of the drug induced answers she had got from the doped woman. "Sleep well." She leaned down and kissed her on the forehead then left the room through the sliding doors.
"Well girls," she said cheerfully, coming back to the bound and gagged house owner and maid in the dining room, "Mrs Hesketh will be able to untie you in an hour or so." She smiled at them then remembered that neither could hear a word. "But first, a few things to tidy up here." And the first thing was to remove the earplugs from the bound pair. Next she gathered up the business papers on the dining table that Amelia had been looking at when she first came into the room. These she stacked neatly and carefully put away in the satchel. The very effectively silenced householder glared furiously at this but but the equally silent Lucy merely looked on balefully, obviously only wanting this intruder to be gone.
And soon that was to happen. "It's time for me to go, ladies," the woman said and reached for her raincoat on the table. The thick fabric rustled as she slipped into it, then buttoned it to the throat and lastly did up the belt, threading it tidily into the loops. She picked up her headscarf and put it away in her now well filled bag. "I can hear it starting up again outside, so I'll use Clara's rain hat from the hall coat cupboard. And, Oh, I almost forgot." She smiled, reached up and removed Lucy's maids cap, which she had worn with flair for the last forty minutes and then carefully placed it back on its owner's head. "There Lucy, you're properly uniformed again. Thank you for the use of it." She beamed at the bewildered maid.
"And now ladies, I'll take my leave of you, Clara will untie you both when she wakes up. In about an hour." She stood before them and slung the full satchel over one shoulder, tucking one hand under the strap and thrusting the other into the large trench coat pocket. "Thank you both for your co-operation." And perhaps she meant this. The whole operation had gone surprisingly well.
She stepped forward, stooped and placed a sisterly kiss on each of the bound women's foreheads, then turned and walked out of the room. And out of the house.
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