Authors: Jeffrey Ashford
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Trent, a man of considerable talent, appreciated the fact that in his line of business there were occasions when success was best sought through failure. He also appreciated that a person's fears were most alarming when the mind, not the facts, set their boundaries.
He chose the team with great care, the victim with even greater. Lord Arkwright, the seventh holder of the title, had served with the Blues until inheriting the title; a man of possessions and, through upbringing and career, of controlled, predictable reactions.
Preston Later was Carolean, built in 1679, and it stood in a walled park in which roamed one of the few herds of red deer to be found south of the Border. From the point of view of security, the house was reasonably protected, but although advised by the local crime prevention officer to instal the best alarm system on the market, Lord Arkwright had settled for one that lacked sophistication. His failure to accept the advice of an expert could have been due to a reluctance to spend money â a trait of the rich â but it was more likely that he believed his record of service to his country and county would promote too much respect for him ever to suffer a criminal invasion. Like most ex-army officers from the best regiments, he could be very naive.
It took Adams just under four minutes to drill a hole through one of the three north-facing doors, to put through this a probe which consisted of a bulb â connected by a lead to a battery in his pocket â and a mirror, both fixed on a nine-inch tube, and with this examine the inside surface of the door and its surround, to judge there was no alarm, and to force the lock. Few would have disputed his claim to be one of the smartest, quickest operators in the country.
A passage led into the kitchen. By the side of one of the wall cupboards in the kitchen was the alarm control panel; the visual display was showing âTap in code'. Adams knew that the standard time in between activating the alarm â which they had done when they'd entered the kitchen â and its sounding was thirty seconds; he also knew that with the system there was no passive defence. He used a small jemmy to wrench the control box away from the wall, so skilfully that there were only muted noises, and cut all the wires leading into and out of it.
They left the kitchen and went down a corridor to a door lined with green baize â Lord Arkwright, ever a traditionalist, had decreed that the separation of the two worlds was to continue to be marked even though there were now no full-time servants â and into the large hall. They climbed the wide, sweeping staircase which had heavily carved oak bannisters. On either side of the wide landing, on one wall of which hung a richly detailed tapestry depicting a stag hunt, stretched a passage. Over several days, observation had shown that lights were normally switched on in three rooms along the right-hand corridor and two along the left. They were assuming that this signified that husband and wife had their bedroom, bathroom, and dressing room to the right, their daughter her bedroom and bathroom to the left.
They moved into the right-hand corridor, then waited whilst Adams, using a stethoscope, listened at each of the doors in turn. He enjoyed acute hearing. People said that this was due to the fact that when young, he'd spent so much of his time listening to make certain his father didn't find him in bed with his sister. After a while, he indicated the middle of the three doors.
They went in with a rush, torches on; the more abruptly victims were jerked out of sleep, the less likely that they would react before it was too late. Keen and Trent attacked Lord Arkwright, Turner, Lady Arkwright. Adams switched on the overhead light; he disliked violence â that was, any involvement on his part.
When the Arkwrights were bound and gagged, Trent told them what to do and what not to do, adding that their daughter would be held as hostage for their unwavering compliance. They were not to call the police. They were to have a quarter of a million pounds in used twenty, ten, and five pound notes, and be ready to hand over this money according to the instructions that would be given.
They left, switching off the light as they did so. The Arkwrights lay in the dark and discovered hell.
They went down the left-hand corridor to the first door and into the bedroom. They had Victoria Arkwright bound and gagged before she had fully comprehended what was happening.
Turner picked her up and slung her over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. During the twenty minutes it took them to leave the house, cross the park, and reach the van in a copse, he enjoyed himself immensely, running his right hand up and down her warm, firm flesh.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
It never occurred to Lord Arkwright that he should keep the kidnapping secret as he had been ordered. It was his duty to inform the police. He made that point to the detective inspector who, slightly overawed by his wealth and social standing â and angry for being so â agreed. So did the detective chief superintendent from county HQ who took charge of the case. Unfortunately, neither man had sufficient imagination to see the possibility that the Arkwrights' daughter had been kidnapped not because her father was wealthy, but because his reaction to her kidnapping was virtually certain.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
In view of the fact that the press must almost certainly learn about the kidnapping, the detective chief superintendent called a press conference. After giving the details, he asked the media to observe a voluntary ban on any publicity until Victoria Arkwright had been reunited with her family and fiancÃ©. With reluctance on the part of some, this was agreed.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
It was logical to suppose the kidnappers would use the telephone to arrange the transfer of the ransom money (lent by the bank at five percentage points above base rate â banks had to live). The Malicious Calls bureau of British Telecom were called in to help and they set up a constant monitor on the two lines into Preston Later and Lord Arkwright was coached on how to make the call last as long as possible without arousing suspicion. Every force in the country was asked to go on to full alert and be ready to act when the point from which the call was being made was identified.
There was no call.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The days slipped by, in normal time for most, in slow, questioning time for the police, in agonizingly drawn-out time for the Arkwrights and Victoria's fiancÃ©. And as the days became a week, a fortnight, and finally a month, the police suffered uneasy bewilderment. Why hadn't the kidnappers demanded the ransom? Was Victoria dead? But even if she were, why were the kidnappers not trying to exact the ransom before acknowledging the fact?
At the end of the month, the police were forced to downgrade the case. However much they wanted at the very least to be seen to continue to support the family, there was no escaping the pressing demands of other and more recent cases, many just as traumatically painful to their victims and close relatives and friends.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
In the early morning, two months and nine days after she had been abducted, Victoria Arkwright was bundled out of a vehicle and left on the verge of a lane in the countryside a couple of miles outside Shrewsbury. After a while, she managed to free first her wrists and then her ankles. She walked along the lane, able to see her way because it was now dawn, and reached a village spaced around crossroads. She knocked on the door of the first house and there was no answer. She knocked on the door of the second and although she noticed the curtains of one of the upstairs rooms move, once again no one responded. Desperate, overwhelmed by this indifference, she hammered on the door of a bungalow and shouted hysterically as she did so. The door was opened by a man in pyjamas and dressing gown whose initial belligerence gave way to compassion.
In hospital, she received treatment for her physical injuries and then the police were permitted to question her briefly. There was little she could tell them that was of practical importance. The several men had at all times kept their faces covered with ski masks; throughout the period of her incarceration, she had been in a small room whose sloping ceiling suggested it was in an attic, with the window boarded up so that she could not see outside. She outlined the torment to which she had been subjected in a voice so devoid of emotion it was as if she were listing the sufferings of a stranger; but the expression in her eyes made it clear that her voice was playing her false. Initially, she had been treated reasonably, experiencing only the wandering hands of the man who had carried her out of the bedroom. But after a time, and she could not judge how long because they had taken her watch, the man in command had come to the room to tell her that her father had been stupid enough to ignore orders and he had contacted the police so that she would have to suffer. And suffer she did. There were continuous sexual assaults, straightforward rape being the least appalling. Madness might have brought relief, but her mind had refused to slide over the edge; death would have brought relief, but she'd never been able to find the last ounce of willpower to kill herself.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
With the case returned to the active list, the police throughout the country combed their files for men known to be sexual sadists and who might have carried out this barbarous kidnapping; every man was brought in for questioning. All without results. A psychological profile of the leader was drawn up. The psychologist postulated someone who during childhood had suffered sexual assault by a person close to him, thus destroying all sense of trust; who, however intelligent, had never been academically minded and so had been labelled backward by his schoolteachers which had resulted in his playing truant; who had discovered a natural gift for crime; who saw in violence a way of gaining respect through fear; who needed money to fund a lifestyle that would assure envyÂ â¦
The profile would have both amused and annoyed Trent. Most of the projections were mere psychobabble, but at least one was a little too close to the truth for a man with pride.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The story could not be published in detail because by law no victim of rape could be named without her consent and no facts could be given that might enable her to be identified. But large sections of the media were past masters at providing the more salacious details of a strong story without actually breaking the law. What was written and said was quite sufficient to terrify every future potential victim and her relatives and friends.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Victoria left hospital a fortnight later, her body almost repaired, her mind still shockingly injured. Her mother gave her all the loving help of which she was capable, her father continued to agonize over the fact that he had been unable to help her when she had desperately needed help, her fiancÃ© honourably, but with the shameful certainty in the back of his mind that he must fail, tried to resume their former, loving relationship.