Well, this is what started it. My "interest", I mean. Being in the wrong place. At the wrong time.
It would never have happened if I hadn't had the bright idea of buying my girlfriend a birthday present from the most up-market jewellers in town. The way I figured it was, no matter what I chose, the name on the box would give me a few good points.
So, that was why I was in the wrong place. As for the wrong time? Well, I'd meant to go at lunch time but I'd got called into a meeting. So there I was, all in a rush, five minutes before closing time on Friday night.
They were being very helpful. I mean it was pretty obvious that I didn't have the sort of money that their regular customers had but even so, when the doorman unlocked the shop door to let me in — that was a new experience let me tell you — he simply said, "Good afternoon, sir. How can we help?"
I explained what I was looking for; some earrings maybe or a bracelet. I guess I sounded like I didn't know too much about, it but he didn't seem to mind. "I'll get Miss Jacqueline to assist you," he said. "Please take a seat."
I watched as he walked to the far end of the shop and spoke to a girl that was carefully putting a tray of rings back into the shop window. As he came back he said, "She won't keep you a moment." The service was far better than in most of the places I generally shopped at. Usually the best I got was a scowl, even if I was parting with money at the till.
I looked around. The place was quite busy, considering it wouldn't be long until they shut up for the night, but I guessed they took the view that if there were customers waiting they'd do what they could to help them to spend. And looking at the way they were dressed I could guess that if they were buying things they'd be spending a whole lot more than I was planning to.
A woman that I took to be the shop manageress was looking through some files at the till. There were a couple of women sitting at one of the other counters, looking at some watches with one of the other shop assistants. A third woman was standing near to the door of the shop peering into a cabinet that held a dazzling array of jewelled necklaces. Even from where I was sitting I could see the staggeringly large emerald that hung from the necklace in the centre of the display.
"It's a fabulous jewel, isn't it?" said a voice at my shoulder.
I turned around startled to see that Miss Jacqueline, as the doorman had referred to her, had joined me. "Yes," I said, "yes. A little out of my price bracket though, I fear."
"Not to worry," said Jacqueline, sitting down. "We have a wide range of items here. What sort of thing did you have in mind?"
The smile she gave me almost made me forget who I was shopping for that evening. Her clear blue eyes and short, urchin cut, blonde hair gave her a gamine appearance that contrasted curiously with her rather conservative dress. She was wearing dark brown skirt and a cream silk blouse. An enamelled badge pinned just above her anything but boyish breasts carried her name in the same script as the shop's name outside. Around her neck she was wearing three strands of perfectly matched pearls; not really the jewellery that you expect to find a twenty something year old girl wearing. She saw me looking at them. "Well," I said, "I was looking for a present for my girlfriend. Some earrings, perhaps or a bracelet; maybe even a necklace. Although I don't think I could afford anything as wonderful as those pearls."
She lifted on hand to her neck, running a finger along them. "They are lovely, aren't they? I mean, it's not the sort of thing I usually wear but they were a present from my grandmother and I was having lunch with her today, so I thought I should wear them."
It was a kind thought, I felt, but any further discussion was cut short. There was a sudden thump from behind me. I turned around as Jacqueline raised her hands to her mouth to stifle a cry. The woman that had been admiring the cabinet of necklaces was standing over the unconscious form of the doorman, pointing a pistol at the two of us. "Please don't move," she said calmly. "This is a robbery."
"And keep your hands where we can see them," another voice called. "We don't want any of those nasty alarm bells, do we?"
I looked across to see that the other two women had also pulled out guns. One had grabbed the other shop assistant around the neck and had her weapon pressed up against her temple, while the other had her pistol levelled at Jacqueline. She waved her pistol to indicate we should move to the back of the shop. "Let's all go into that little room, shall we?" she said gesturing towards it.
Jacqueline was looking scared. I guess we all were. One of the women had flipped the sign on the shop's door to 'closed' and was pulling the blinds down on the shop doorway. The other was busying herself tying up the doorman.
"Come ON!" the woman urged, waving her pistol more urgently. "Get your hands up and MOVE!"
The manageress, the two shop assistants and I were herded into the back room and lined up against the wall, our hands over our heads. All three of the robbers followed us in. By now they had pulled scarves up over their faces as masks. A Burberry check, a floral pattern and a blue and gold Hermes print hid the identities of the three women. The one in the blue and gold scarf seemed to be in charge. "Here's what we're going to do," she said. "You," she pointed her pistol at the manageress, "are going to open the safe."
The manageress shook her head defiantly. "No," she said, "you can't come in here and..." Her protest was cut off by a back handed slap from the robber's leader. The blow cut the corner of the manageress's mouth, leaving a trickle of blood.
"Try again," the woman in the blue and gold mask said, pushing the barrel of her pistol up under the woman's chin. "Try again. Only this time, start by saying, 'yes ma'am, ' why don't you?"
The manageress stared, terrified, at her assailant. "Yes, ma'am," she said. "The keys are in the desk."
"I know," her attacker said. "Thanks anyway, but like I said, you are going to open the safe. So why don't you get them? And make sure you stay away from the telephone."
"Everybody else stay nice and still," barked the woman with the Burberry check scarf, the barrel of her pistol inches from the other shop assistant's head. She was clearly very scared; crying, mascara running down her cheeks. I looked across at Jacqueline. She seemed to be coping all right. She seemed to be studying the women, trying to remember each detail for a description that might help the police later. I followed her lead as the Manageress made her way slowly across to the desk, keeping her hands up in the air and staring at the gun that was pointed directly at her.
The safe was a big, Victorian thing with a great brass lock plate. The bunch of keys that the manageress pulled from the desk drawer looked as though they weighed almost as much as the safe. She walked back across the office to the safe and knelt by the door. The woman in the blue and gold scarf pressed her gun against the woman's neck as she hesitated. She gave a quiet squeak of fright and opened the door. "There," said the women in the blue and gold scarf, "that wasn't too hard, was it?" She grabbed the manageress by her hair and pulled her away from the safe. "Get over by the wall and put your hands up," she ordered. She took a quick look in the safe and nodded with satisfaction. "Excellent," she said. "Now we're going to make all of you nice and comfortable so we can take our time looking to see just what nice things there are for us to take away. All right?"
The manageress nodded compliantly. Jacqueline and I weren't so keen. The woman in the blue and gold scarf reached into her Prada handbag and pulled out a handful of plastic strips. She waved to Jacqueline to come forward. "You can help with this," she said. "Use these cable ties. Tie her up," she waved at the manageress. "Wrists behind her back. Get on with it."
"Go on. Most people would be glad to get the chance to put one over on their boss," snarled the woman in the Burberry scarf.
"I'm sorry," said Jacqueline to the manageress as she obeyed the threats of the robbers.
"Make sure you pull that tight," the women in the flowered scarf mask snapped. "I'll be checking it. Now do her ankles."
Jacqueline finished tying the wrists and ankles of the manageress with the cable ties. The woman in blue and gold pulled a roll of tape from her bag and called Jacqueline across to take it. As she did so, the woman grabbed her wrist and span her against the wall. She pushed the barrel of her pistol up under Jacqueline's chin and reached for the pearls around her neck. "These look nice," she said.
I knew from what Jacqueline had said that she couldn't bear to lose them "Don't take those," I called.
The woman scowled at me. "Shut the fuck up, you!" she ordered.
"No, please," said Jacqueline reaching up to her neck and pressing the pearls against herself. "Don't take those. Please take anything but my pearls. They were a present from my grandmother."
The woman in the blue and gold mask took another look at the open safe. "Well," she said, "no point in being greedy, I suppose." Jacqueline looked relieved. "We will take the rest though. Get undressed!"
"Your idea, Jacqueline," the woman, with a chuckle in her voice, its humour destroyed by her ruthless tone. "You said take anything else. Thanks, we will. Get undressed. We'll take your clothes or we'll take the pearls."
The woman in the Burberry mask gave a chuckle and stood watching. Her weapon trained on the rest of us. Jacqueline shook her head. The woman in the blue and gold scarf reached towards the pearls again. Jacqueline stepped back. "All right," she said. "All right."
"There's a good girl," the woman said condescendingly. "Nice and slow, though. We don't want any sudden movements that might startle us, do we?"
Jacqueline scowled at the woman and started to unbutton her blouse. I couldn't help but watch. Jacqueline caught me looking at her, scowled again and turned her back. She unfastened the waist band of her skirt, slid down the zip and slipped the skirt over her hips. She stepped out of it, turned and stood with her hands up, defiantly facing the woman with the gun. "There you are," she said. "Satisfied?" She threw a look at me too. I looked away embarrassed but I'd seen enough to appreciate her slim waist, shapely legs and the way she filled her bra.
"Don't be silly. You said take anything. Get the rest of it off."
"Oh!" Jacqueline exclaimed.
"That's right, panties, bra, tights, shoes; all of it."
"Bitch," said Jackie, but she did as she was told, shucking off her underwear and throwing it down on the pile of her clothes. Naked she put her hands up again. "Satisfied?" she said.
"Great," said the women in the blue and gold mask.
"Cute body," said the one in the Burberry.
"Don't you ever think about anything else?" said the woman in the flowered scarf.
"I'm not the only one that thinks so," said the woman in the Burberry mask and nodded across at me.
The woman in blue and gold stepped across and jammed the barrel of her pistol up against my crotch. "Enjoying yourself?" she asked. Her masked face was inches from mine and I could clearly smell the musky scent she was wearing. I shook my head. "Good," she said, "I'd hate to think you were getting your rocks off while we're working." She jerked the gun upwards against my crotch, slamming it painfully into my balls. I gasped and almost doubled up, dropping my hands instinctively. She laughed and pushed me back against the wall. "Get your hands back up," she snarled. Your balls won't have dropped off."