Well hello again - if you will just allow me to finish with this customer, I will be right with you.
Now then - did you know they were mother and daughter? They do look quite alike, although I think you would be hard pushed to work out who is copying whom in terms of their dress style. They seem to have adopted more of a mix and match approach to their clothing - and I have to say, it seems to work for them.
As a general rule, a cat burglar likes to target places where they are not going to be disturbed, or at the very least the likelihood there is only one person who can be easily - persuaded not to interfere. Of course, life been what it is, that is not always possible, and at times you do find yourself facing members of the same family group. Not necessarily the same family, but the same family group, and that can happen for a number of reasons.
One particular occasion springs to mind - this would have been in the mid-eighties, and I was up in Manchester attending the funeral of an old friend. Naturally, I decided while I was in the area to see if there was anywhere I could gain some things. This particular occasion, I had spent a day looking round the Fallowfields area, and had found a Victorian terraced house on a quiet back street that looked as if it was a likely candidate.
It was the late afternoon by the time I slipped into the back garden and made my way to the back door, dressed as I usually did then in dark sweater and pants. The door was unlocked, which allowed me to slip in and start my search of the ground floor of the house. The people who lived there were obvious connoisseurs of art, and part of me wished I had come later, with the means to remove some of the paintings that hung on the wall, but that was not my intention that day.
I soon found the safe behind a picture of a stag on a fog covered moor, and it proved not too difficult to open. I helped myself to the banded banknotes that were inside, and closed the door to - only to find myself face to face with a grey haired, slightly smaller woman, wearing a blue coat dress with a white collar and cuffs on the short sleeves, dark (and actually slightly loose) tights and a pair of black flat shoes.
“Who the hell are you,” she said as she looked right at me. Well, I did the only thing that I could obviously have done - I put my gloved hand over her mouth, told her “Please, do not scream,” and taking her by the arm I guided her back into the kitchen. Once there, I pulled one of the chairs out and invited her to have a seat, while I looked in a cupboard and took out a wrapped coil of washing line, then grabbed a pair of scissors.
As I cut a length of the line off, and pulled her hands behind the chair, I had a chance to assess her more closely. I would have out her in her late forties or early fifties, and she was rather pleasantly plump - if a little silent as I tied her wrists together, then secured them down to the central spar of the chair.
Walking in front of her, I tied her ankles tightly together, and then secured them in turn to one of the front legs, before tying her own legs together below her knees. Standing up, I watched as she tried to move, and then said to me “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”
I actually laughed then, and then said “well, I have a little experience in these matters,” - which should have been a warning to me that things were about to get a little more complicated.
Which they then proceeded to do - I had found a clean tea towel, and was in the process of folding it to use as a gag when I heard a second voice saying “Who the hell are you?”
Turning round, I say another woman standing in the doorway, virtually identical to the first one to interrupt me, save for the fact her hair was dark brown as opposed to grey. I looked at my older lady in the chair, and said “Your daughter?”
She nodded, and said “We work together as cleaners - I guess we just got unlucky today.”
“My apologies,” I said as I pulled out a second chair, and looked at the daughter. “If you will have a seat, I will secure you as well, and then allow you to talk as I look upstairs.”
“Are you going to gag us,” the younger girl said as she sat down.
“Regretfully, yes - why?”
“Don’t use that,” she said as she looked at the towel I had left on the table to allow me to secure her wrists, “In the top drawer on the left in the master bedroom, you will find a collection of scarves - use two of them.”
Well, I secured her to the chair, tying her ankles to the legs of the chairs as opposed to each other, and completed my search upstairs. Sure enough, there was a selection of fine silk scarves in the drawer - and a jewellery box underneath them. I selected a large black silk square, and one with red, gold and blue diagonal stripes - both of which worked very well as bands to silence the unfortunate cleaners before I left the house.
Which reminds me - I told you once about my old and dear friend DS “Bulldog” Drummond and how I once paid a visit to his wife? Well, I don’t think I ever told you about the thing that happened a few years later, when I had almost retired from the active side of this business.
I had just set up my first shop, and was in the back looking over some inventory when I heard the bell to say there was a customer. I walked through, and stopped dead in my tracks - there was James Drummond, resplendent in a navy blue blazer, white shirt with tie and a pair of light tan slacks, and beside him his wife.
The last time I had seen her was a few years previously, one Christmas Eve, and I had left her wrapped up as a present for her husband. This time she was rather more conservatively dressed, in a white dress with small blue sunflowers printed on it, a red jacket and matching shoes.
Drummond looked at me, and said “Well, well - finally found something to turn your talents to, John?” We shook hands and they had a look round, while we chatted about things. He had just retired from the police force then, and was looking to get a few things for his new home.
I pointed out a few pieces of furniture to him - nothing but the legitimate stuff - and we agreed a price. As they turned to leave, Mrs Drummond dropped her handbag, and I bent down to give it back to her. As she accepted it, she slipped me a piece of paper, and smiled as the two of them left.
I looked at the slip, which was a note asking me to ring her that night on a certain number. Later that evening I did so, and she asked if I could come round the night after next, while her husband was round. I asked why, and she simply said “I want you to meet my sisters.”
Anyway, two nights later I walked up to the front door and rang the bell. Now, bear in mind this was in the mid nineties, and while leather clothing was becoming a more fashionable item it was still not seen that often outside of coats.
So when the door was opened and I saw Mrs Drummond there, in a black leather knee length skirt and jacket, I had to stop myself for a moment. “Come in John,” she said as she held the door for me, “My sisters are waiting.”
I walked into the front room to find two women, obviously younger versions of the grey haired lady who walked behind me, standing there. One was wearing a Fair Isle cardigan over a high necked blouse, and a blue scallop style skirt - you know, the ones that were above the knee at the front, and almost went down to the floor at the back. The other had a green cowl necked jersey dress, which came down to just above her knees, and long grey suede boots, in contrast to the patent leather heels of the other woman.
“Gail, Nancy,” Mrs Drummond said as she closed the door, “Meet John Jacobs - the man who tied me up in the ribbon a few years ago.”
“You were right, Cath,” the woman in the dress, who I figured was Nancy said, “He’s a keeper.”
“Er...” I stammered, “Ladies, it is a pleasure to meet you all, but quite honestly I do not know what your sister is speaking about...”
“Oh yes you do,” Cath Drummond said as she looked at me. “That night, when James came home, was one of the most fulfilling I have ever had - and I want you to do to the three of us what you did to me that night. Bind us, gag us, and let us try to escape.”
“I see,” I said for a moment, my hand on my chin, “and your husband?”
“He’s off on a booze cruise,” she said with a smile. “Don’t worry - your secret is safe with us. We just want to have a little fun, and the girls want to experience something of what you did to me.”
I looked at the three of them for a moment, and then said “All right then - do you have a particular situation in mind?”
“How would you tie us as a cat burglar, to stop us raising the alarm and make it very difficult to free each other?”
“Without totally immobilising all of you?” I watched as they all nodded, and then said “All right then - clear some room on the floor, and then tell me who would like to go first.”
“I will,” Nancy said, and as the others cleared a coffee table out of the way she stood in front of me. “Is it true you wrapped my sister up in red ribbon?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I said as I looked at her, “So what do I get to use? A cat burglar tends to go with whatever he can find.”
“You’ll need to use whatever you can find in this room,” Cath said as she looked at me. Looking round, I saw a number of thin silk oblongs on the couch, so I picked up a red one and said “Please, Nancy, put your hands together in front of you as if you were praying.”
She did as I asked, watching wide eyed as I tied her wrists tightly together. “I trust that is not uncomfortable,” I said as she twisted her wrists round. She looked at me, shook her head and said “no - quite soft in fact. Now what?”
At my instruction she sat on the floor and bent her knees, allowing me to bind her ankles tightly together with one scarf, and her legs below her knees with another. Her dress had slipped a little, but I was glad to see she had a pair of cycling shorts on underneath.
At any rate, I tied a final scarf between her wrists and the one below her knees, and then looked at Gail. “Please,” I said as I indicated with my hand, “sit next to your sister and put your arm through hers, then put your hands together as if you are praying.”
She sat down, arranging her skirt so that it lay below her legs, and did as I asked her, hooking her left arm through Nancy’s right and putting her hands together as if to pray. I saw a ball of grey wool in a basket, and used that to bind her wrists tightly together, playing the wool out and laying her wrists on her lap so that I could bind her legs together above her knees, then around her ankles.
“Simple,” she said as she looked down her body. “And the fact we have linked arms?”
“Makes it more difficult for you to move on your own,” I said as I picked up a roll of black tape, “Especially once Cath here has linked arms with both of you.”
“I can take a hint,” the third sister said as she sat down and linked arms with both of them, then crossed her wrists in front of her. I then used the electrical tape to secure her arms together, followed by her legs and ankles.
Standing back, I watched as the three of them tried to free their wrists, with little success.
“So,” Gail eventually said as she looked at us, “how do you intend to keep us quiet?”
Which was a very good question - I did not want to use tape, and there were not enough scarves. Nor did I want to do what others do - get some pairs of underwear. Instead, I looked in the laundry basket, found three pairs of ankles socks, balled each pair up, and then pushed them into their mouths.
“With your permission,” I said as I sat down, “for once I’ll stay to make sure you don’t hurt yourselves. There are ways of freeing yourselves - if you can find them.” They nodded and tried twisting around - at first.
Family, of course, is not just in the people you meet - there is one’s own family as well. As you know, I have a niece - my brother’s daughter, who used to have to resort to rather less than legal methods to fund his care. When he passed a year or two ago, I thought she had retired, so I was surprised when I got a call from her, asking for some help with a matter.
“Uncle John,” Amanda said as we sat on the couch in her flat, “I need a big favour from you.”
“If it’s money,” I said, “Just ask - you know I will...”
“It’s not money,” Amanda said with a smile. When she did that, she looked so much like Bert it was frightening. “I need to get something back from another person - and it needs to be done in a way that she does not suspect me.”
She told me that a colleague of hers at her office had been suspected for some time of pilfering from the accounts, but nothing had ever been proved. The sort of thing that happens far too often, but that’s not the important thing here - what was was the fact that Amanda had realised that this person had laid an evidence trail that led directly to her - and if the police talked to her, then certain rather more awkward things might come to light.
“I know,” Amanda finished as she drank her coffee, “she keeps her true records on a secure area on her laptop, and I can get into that - but I want to do it as part of a cover. I know I swore never to do this again, and you’re retired, but Uncle John - will you help me?”
Come one - this was family, of course I agreed. So two days later, we were parked outside a terraced house on the outskirts of town, dressed in black and looking up at the light in the top floor window.
“So she lives alone?” Amanda nodded as she checked the contents of her bag, then looked at me. I got out of the car, opened her side and walked with her arm in mine up to the door, thanking the couple who were coming out as we slipped in.
Amanda was wearing a long black coat, while I had on a dark blazer and slacks. Making our way up to the top floor, Amanda discarded her coat and I took my jacket off, putting both into the duffel bag I was carrying to reveal the black sweaters we had one, and in Amanda’s case the cuffed black suede boots over her leggings. A pair of black leather gloves on our hands, a balaclava, and we were ready for work as she knocked on the door.
“Just a minute,” we heard a voice say, and we stood by the door waiting for it to open. When it did, there was this other woman, wearing a striped leotard over a pink body stocking, leg warmers and a pink hairband.
She didn’t get a chance to register who we were before I took her back into the flat, my hand over her mouth as Amanda closed the door behind us. “Is anyone else in the flat,” I whispered as I looked at her, watching as she slowly shook her head, a small whimper coming from under the glove.
“Right then,” I said, “You come with me. Go through her rooms,” I said to Amanda. Part of our plan was that she would not say anything, so that her voice was not recognised, so she went to the bedroom while I took the other woman back into her front room.
I could see the fitness video playing, so I picked up the remote and turned the volume up, then reached into my pocket and showed her a roll of green tape. “Can you guess what I’m going to do with this,” I said in a menacing manner - not usual for me, but this was family. She whimpered again and nodded as I looked to a chaise longue and said “Lie down, on your stomach, and put your hands behind your back.
That, by the way, was a piece of furniture that confirmed Amanda’s suspicions - it was late Victorian, upholstered in brown leather and in remarkably good condition, worth at least £3,000. It was by no means the most expensive item in the room either - I could see some plates in a display cabinet that were worth at least twice that.
I wasn’t here for that however - I was here for Amanda, so when she came back in thirty minutes later and nodded our host was lying on her back, her wrists firmly secured together behind her back and to her waist, and bands of tape encircling her ankles, calves and thighs. I had stuffed her headband into her mouth, and wrapped the tape around her head to silence her.
“Did you get everything,” I said, and Amanda just nodded. “Let’s go then,” I said as we left the young girl, taking off our balaclava masks and gloves and retrieving our coats before we left.
Amanda smiled as we left the building, and showed me the memory stick she had used.