Into the Woods
“Would you like some more tea?”
“Please,” I said as I looked at the young steward, smiling as he refilled my mug and placed it on the tray in front of me. The remains of a sandwich pack and a slice of Walnut cake were on the plates, as was the napkin and cutlery I had used.
“Not long now,” Angela said as she looked across at me, “looking forward to seeing them?”
I nodded slowly as I sipped my hot drink and looked out over the sea. We’d been in the air for about six hours, leaving London on a hot summer’s day, and hoping to land in Boston on a slightly cooler summer’s afternoon, thanks to the joys of a five hour time difference. Angela and I had been invited to go and visit Sarah and Brian earlier in the year, but we’d both agreed to hold off on the visit until the middle of our summer holidays, which meant this last week in July.
And as it turned out, we needed this break as well, thanks to some things that the two of us had done since the half term break. Grandfather had been invited to invest in a film set in Victorian times, which was been made by the son of an old family friend. In return, he’d offered to let me and Angela play a small part in the film – well, be one of the extras in background scenes, but it meant we spent the Whitsun break and some weekends after that working on the set, and wearing some really interesting outfits.
Interesting as they were authentic – which meant having to wear a corset when we were in the dresses, with all that entailed. We soon got used to it, and we had a great time doing it, as well as getting to know Alun Markson’s family – particularly his daughter Geraldine, who was acting as a costume adviser as well as another of the extras.
Anyway – a couple of weeks ago, we went back to Markson Manor, where a lot of the outdoors scenes were shot, along with Jenny and Cassie Craig, their cousin Patty Pickering and her friend Rachel Rigg, and my cousin Suzie Holderness. The idea was we would spend the weekend there, and also get a chance to see the finished film while Alun and his mother attended the premiere in London.
It was a good plan, and we started the day after we arrived by Gerri helping us to dress up in some of the costumes from the film. Like I said, a good plan...
The steward came back and took my tray, after I made sure everything was on it, and I raised the table up and put it back. Looking at the map on the small screen, I could see we were approaching the coast, and I wondered how long it would be before we started the descent.
Anyway – as I said – the plan was we dressed up in the outfits, all eight of us, and watched the film together, undisturbed, while Gerri’s dad, Viscount Markson, was away for the day on business. We found out the night before that he used to work with my grandparents, as well as Jenny and Cassie’s grandfather, on some – well, dangerous work.
Well, that was what happened – what made it just a little more different was that all of us, except for Gerri and the housekeeper Mrs Danvers, were rather restrained and muted in our response.
Not because the film was bad – actually, it’s rather good – but because there were some uninvited visitors. Visitors all of us, except Angela and Gerri, had met at least once.
Visitors by the name of Jay Edwards, Mrs McPhee, and the people who work with them. They’d picked that weekend to force Viscount Markson to take money from his businesses to pass to them – and we got caught up in all that.
So there we were – dressed up in clothes from days past, and held hostage while the man of the family is forced to work for them over the weekend. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, it certainly did to six of us – and Angela knew all about the fifties weekend as well.
That was the time I first met Jay – we were held captive in Jenny’s house for two days and a night, and then we were taken to a house in the country and held there for another day and night.
And when I say held captive, I mean it – hands covered and effectively turned into boxing gloves, arms tightly bound to our bodies with bands of rope around our waists, stomachs, and – well, I think you can imagine – and then our ankles and legs tied just as tightly.
As for speaking – well, let’s go through the stages. The folded cloth that fills your mouth and keeps your tongue pressed to the floor of your mouth... The knotted strip of cloth that is tied between your lips to keep that cloth in place... The white tape that is wrapped round your head to cover that strip... The folded cloth tied over that strip...
Oh yeah – and there were two other things. First, Patty and Rachel – or the Tornado Twins as Suzie calls them – had a new wrinkle. Before the cloth was tied over the white or whatever coloured tape, they got Jay and friends to wrap duct tape over that band as well, keeping it over the coloured tape. The good news is it meant your hair was not trapped. The bad news is it pressed even more tightly on the mouth.
And then – well, we were all in Victorian costume, and that included the bonnets. You know, the bonnets held on by straps or ribbons tied under the chin – and if you tied them nice and tightly when you were already very well gagged, you really could not move your mouth.
So we spent the entire weekend like that – the one thing that made it slightly, and I mean slightly, more bearable is a personal thing. When you’re tied that way, there are two bands of rope that sit above and below your chest, and if you move, the way they can rub against you, particularly if as was the case they are tightened with small lengths of rope under the arms, it can be distracting.
Very distracting. The one thing I had to be grateful for was that Jay and team never went any further than that. Sitting in the seat, I remembered a weekend when Jenny and I had to look after Patty, Rachel and their friends Fiona and Louise. We ended up really well tied that weekend as well – but Patty had seen something that Angela and her boyfriend had used when they were playing games, and...
I wriggled around a little just thinking about it, and then saw Angela looking at me out of the corner of her eye. “Sorry – thinking of that weekend,” I said as I changed my seat position so it was upright.
“Yeah, I figured from the way you were moving,” she said as the pilot announced they were starting the approach to Logan Airport, and I looked at the water.
Anyway – those ropes on the chest can do something, but given we were wearing Victorian dresses, we had on Victorian underwear – and corsets, which meant the only band of rope we really felt was the one above our chests. That still made me feel a bit funny, but it was bearable.
Except for nighttimes, when we were all wearing cotton nightdresses, but were still bound and gagged – as were Gerri and Mrs Danvers. Alone in your bed, those ropes could rub the way they usually do – and, well, I don’t want to go too much into what I felt then.
Jay and Mrs McPhee – who somehow managed to get into the spirit of the weekend and dress up as well, and let me tell you, a balaclava wearing robber looking like the Governess in a film is a sight to behold – were there for two days and nights, before we were finally freed on the Monday morning. We spent another day there, and drove back on the Tuesday – to be met that night at home by our parents, who by then had been told what had happened by my grandparents.
That was an – interesting evening meal, as we explained everything we had done. I know with Cassie and Jenny it’s becoming something of a standing joke about her getting a ‘frequent hostage’ card, but when you think about it – why the heck do we keep ending up in these situations?
That was a couple of weeks ago, and since then Angie and I have been visiting friends and relatives, as well as preparing for this trip. I went into town with Jenny, Mary and Cathy to see the production of High Society at the Old Vic, while Angela went off for the weekend with Eddie, her boyfriend and Mary’s brother, to Edinburgh.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now beginning out final approach to Boston Logan Airport. Please ensure you have stored everything and all tables...”
“Well, looks as if we’re nearly there,” Angela said as she put her seat into the correct position. “What’s the first thing you want to do when we get onto the ground?”
“Go to the toilet?”
Angie grinned as she fastened her seat belt. “I know that feeling – it’s not going to be that bad, honestly.”
Looking out of the window, I could see the sea coming closer, and as I sat back I let my mind wonder back to yesterday when Martin and I went out for a pizza with Jenny and Colin...
“You’re kidding? Louise and Freddie?”
“That’s right,” Jenny said as she bit into her Veggie Supreme, “Patty told us tonight when she came round with Aunt Jess. And they’re not the only ones who are going to have a baby brother or sister this time next year.”
She looked over at Martin, who wiped his chin as I turned and stared at him,
“No – not me, mistress of misdirection,” Martin said with a laugh, “I’m an only child and proud of it. I think she is talking about Kerry and Clive Rigg.”
“Rachel’s parents? Oh my goodness,” I said as I looked at Jenny, “is she pregnant as well?”
“Yup – both about three months. According to Patty, she had to peel Rachel off the ceiling when she called round to her house.”
I smiled at that thought – those two little women can be a little hyperactive at the best of times, but now?
“I take it you’re going to hook up with Heidi and the girls while you’re out there,” Colin said as he took a drink from his glass.
“That’s a given. Apparently they’re coming out to Heather’s place during the week, so we’ll head down there when that happens. Having said which, I’m sure we’ll meet up at other times as well.”
Heidi is my long term pen friend – and distant cousin – who lives in Maine, near to the people Angie and I are going to stay with. That’s Sarah and Brian Holderness-Carter – and how we first met Sarah and Brian is a whole story in itself, which I haven’t got time to explain right now. For now, let’s just say Sarah in particular has been an amazingly close and good friend to our family – and it was because of her we were coming over now.
As I said, Heidi lives in Maine with Cindy and their mothers. We talk most weeks on Skype, and we share a lot together – so I was looking forward to seeing all of them as well. Angela was also looking forward to meeting Chloe, a French girl who goes to college in Heidi’s town. She and her boyfriend James had announced their engagement recently, and apparently Chloe wanted Angela and Eddie to do something for her.
At least, that’s what I heard when they talked last week, and Angela was a little bit loud in repeating what she said...
Boston is one of those places you fly into over the sea, and touch down almost as soon as you clear land, as the plane bumped on contact and we started to decelerate. Once we got to the gate, Angela stood up and brushed some crumbs off her jeans, before she opened the overhead locker and took out her black ankle boots, putting them on as I laced up my trainers. We both had on jeans and sweatshirts, adding some padded jerkins before we took out rucksacks and got off the plane.
We went through the usual rigmarole of customs and passport control – technically Angie was the responsible adult, so she went first, but eventually we loaded our cases on a luggage trolley, our bags on the cases, walked through and handed the white form to a US Customs officer, and emerged through the gates.
“There you both are – welcome back to Boston!”
“Good to see you too Brian,” Angela said as the six foot ten blonde Australian came over and gave both of us a bear hug. “How are the family?”
“Waiting and anxious to see their godmother again,” Brian said with a big smile as he looked at me. “They’re starting to pull themselves round the furniture now, as you’ll see when we get there. Come on – I’ve got some water and snacks in the car for the drive.”
And so began a very interesting week...
“Did you enjoy the flight over,” Brian said as we emerged from the freeway under the city, the late afternoon sun shining down on the SUV.
“It wasn’t too bad – I just don’t particularly like flying,” Angela said as she looked out of the window. “So what is Sarah up to today?”
“Kayla and Anne are visiting – it’s time for the latest of the shots of the kids, and she wanted to give both Sarah and Chloe a check-up.”
“Chloe? So will she and James still be there when we arrive?”
“No idea – find out when we get there,” Brian said with a smile. “Listen – tomorrow, Heather’s invited us down to her place for lunch. I think one or two others may be there as well.”
“Good,” I said as I yawned, “I was hoping I’d get to see the girls when I was over here.”
“Oh I think you can guarantee that,” Brian said with a smile. “But tonight is set aside as a quiet night, give you a chance to wind down and get a decent night’s sleep.”
The roads soon passed into the country roads as we headed north, and eventually pulled off onto a tree lined side road, before we pulled up outside a large colonial farm house. There were two cars parked outside –a black sedan and a grey Mini.
“Looks as if they’ve waited for you,” Brian said as he turned the engine off, and we saw Sarah appearing in the doorway. She was wearing a dusky grey top and joggers, but she was smiling broadly as she came out and embraced both of us.
“Welcome to our home,” she said as she looked at us. “You’re both looking well – how are you enjoying the school holidays?”
“An – experience,” Angela said as Brian got the cases from the back of the car.
“What is this I hear that both of you are in a film?”
“Yeah – has it come out here?”
“Another month or so – but your grandmother has told me all about it. Anyway, come on in – you both look as if you could use a drink.”
Although Sarah is a couple of years older than our mother, you wouldn’t think it to see her at the moment. WE followed her in to hear the sound of laughter coming from the front room.
“Hey – look who’s finally arrived!”
“Angela, Alicia, mes amies – welcome back,” Chloe said as she came over and hugged us. The young Frenchwoman – I’d forgotten she was a year older than Angela – was dressed the same way I always seemed to find her. The main difference was her scarf was not tucked into the front of her sweater, and I could see her Dr Marten boots in the hallway, but the v-necked sweater, denim shorts, leggings and striped socks – all present and correct.
Her fiancé James came over and hugged both of us as well. He looked slimmer and stronger than the last time I had seen him, the unasked question answered by him as he said “Brian’s been doing a workout regime with me.”
“Looking good for it as well, isn’t he,” Chloe said with a smile as she looked at us. “You did a very brave thing for Sarah, both of you, and I thank you for that.”
That very brave thing – last time Sarah had visited us, for reasons I really don’t want to get into now, she had been infected by something that was threatening to kill her. You see, Sarah is different from almost everyone else we know, with one exception.
First, she really is a member of our family – something like our second cousin once removed, but to use a phrase, it’s complicated.
Secondly, some time ago she was infected by a biological agent which left her with... Actually, that’s even harder to explain. The easiest way of putting it is she has some powers, which kick in under certain circumstances, and means she works as a Most Secret Agent for the government. She has saved the lives of Angela and the other women in my family before, as well as those of Heidi and the girls.
The source of her powers also means she’s virtually immune to illness – but this time, she was infected by an agent designed to kill the thing that had changed her. The only way she could survive is if antibodies could be generated by her closest living relatives, of a certain age.
Guess who they were?
It was easily the most harrowing few days I have ever spent – but as a result, not only was Sarah able to recover, her ‘handlers’ for want of a better word, had a way to deal with some other unfortunate side effects of Sarah’s powers.
Only a few people outside our family, and the Craigs, know of what Sarah can do – and that included both Chloe and James, and the two women who were playing with Bart and Sarah Jr as we came into the front room.
I had first met Anne Duncombe a few years ago, the first time I came to the US with Jenny, Cassie and Suzie. She’s an agent with the FBI, something she had denied at first until we got to know her better, and also an old friend of Heidi’s mother. Kayla Smith, the other blonde, was also with the FBI, and between them they headed up Project: Pink Widow.
Or, as we know her, Sarah.
“Welcome back to the homeland,” Anne said as Bart turned round and looked at us, before he walked over, his arms held up as he came towards me.
“Well hello there, little one,” I said as I picked him up and tickled his nose, “and how are you?”
“When did they...”
“A couple of months ago,” Sarah said as Angela picked Bart’s twin sister up. “You remember Alicia, don’t you Sarah?”
The dark haired girl looked over at me, and then nodded as she said “Lisha.”
“Well, this is her sister Angela. Say hello to her, kids.”
Sarah Jr waved shyly as Bart said “Anjela?”
“That’s right,” Angela said as she tickled his nose, making him giggle. “How are you Kayla?”
“I’m very well thanks,” Kayla said as she sat with Anne. “How’s College?”
“Well, I passed the first year, and Eddie passed the second,” Angela said as she out Sarah down, and I let Bart join her while they toddled over to a play mat. “The serious work begins next year. What about you Chloe?”
“As with you, the serious work starts next year,” Chloe said with a smile.
“Look – I’ll put your bags in your rooms, and then I can see about starting dinner.”
“It’s not steak for dinner tonight, is it,” Angela said.
“No – I got some tuna at the market before coming to collect you two. So sit down, relax, and leave everything to me.”
As we stood on the perch, waving the two cars off, Angela said “Let me do the washing up.”
“You just need to load the dish washer, Angie,” Sarah said with a smile.
“Well, let me load the dishwasher then,” Angela said as she looked at our host.
“I know that look – it’s the one Lucinda uses when she’s determined,” Brian said with a laugh. “All right, on you go – you two go and sit in the front room and I’ll bring some cocoa through.”
“It can get a bit cold up here in the woods at night,” Sarah said as we walked back in. The twins were sleeping on the couch, so we sat in the armchairs as Sarah looked at me.
“You really are starting to look a lot like Anne – both of you are.”
“The Holderness genes coming through,” I said with a smile.
“So how are things with Martin?”
I smiled and said “Well, we’re still together, and we do seem to be growing closer together.”
“Oh? Anything I need to tell your mother about?”
“NO – not in that way anyway,” I said with a smile, “I just mean we seem to be learning off each other. We seem to bring each other out of our shells.”
“No bad thing,” Sarah said with a smile as Brian picked Bart up and carried him to his bed, “if I’ve learned one thing since I discovered the way our families were connected, it’s to be comfortable in the family history and in ourselves.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow and said “has someone been talking outside of class?”
“No – but some of the things I heard during those few days are still stuck up here,” I said as I tapped the side of my head.
“Hmm – you also have Lucinda’s capacity for keeping secrets,” Sarah said with a smile. “Chloe is adapting well, as is James.”
“So who else lives round here,” I said as I looked out of the window at the darkening sky.
“Apart from Heather down the way? Not that many – I was brought here precisely because it was off the beaten track, but we take the twins to a playgroup twice a week, and I’ve got to know some of the other mothers there as well.”
“Good – I always wondered if you were going to end up lonely, and I’m glad you’re not.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said as Angela and Brian came in, each of them holding two mugs of cocoa. “So, what exactly happened when you girls visited Markson Manor?”
I looked at Angela, before she said “Well, it started in the right way...”
The masked bandit was standing over me, the bandana covering his mouth as he tied the last rope from my ankle to the peg hammered into the ground. I was lying on the ground, my booted ankles spread ride and attached to two stakes as my riding skirt was stretched by my legs been forced apart.
My arms were outstretched above my head, attached by more rope to two more pegs, my waistcoat opened up as my white blouse covered my upper body. The scarf I had tied round my neck to protect it from the wind and dust was now stuffed into my mouth, as I looked at him.
“Your grandfather will have to sign over the deeds to the ranch now,” he sneered as the sun shone down, “if he wants to see his little prairie rose back again.”
“Ullnfrgtwwwfths,” I said as I struggled.
“Oh – and who’s going to stop me, that wimp of a boyfriend?”
That was the last thing he said, as his eyes rolled up and he slumped to the ground, the Masked Avenger standing behind him as he held the shovel. Dressed in black, including the domino mask over his eyes, he knelt beside me and removed the scarf from my mouth, allowing me to say “My hero...”
“Time to wake up,” he said as he looked at me, only it was Angela’s voice I heard.
“Time to wake up...”
I opened my eyes to see Angela standing over the bed, looking at me as she said “Nice dream?”
“Yeah – thanks for interrupting it,” I said as I sat myself up. “What time is it?”
“Eight o’clock – get showered and dressed. We have time for breakfast before we need to head down to the church.”
As we drove up the road that led to Heather’s farm, my mind went back to the last time I visited here, just over a year ago before the christening. That had been the last time I had met the girls as well – and I was sure we had a lot to talk about.
“I see it hasn’t changed much,” Angela said as she looked out.
“When were you here,” I said as I looked at her.
“When Gran and I came over that time,” she said quietly, and I knew that was going to be the end of that conversation for a while. As we stopped in the main yard, Heather came out, wearing a long denim skirt and a sleeveless blouse, her bare feet clearly visible.
“Hey there,” she said as we got out, “welcome back.” Although we had been to church, we’d all dressed in polo shirts and shorts, given it was a warm day.
“Good to be back,” Angela said as she hugged Heather. “I can see you’ve both grown a bit as well,” she said as she looked at us. “So come in, come in – the girls are in the front room Alicia, and we’ll eat some lunch in a little while. I hope you don’t mind some salad just now – I thought we’d eat properly later once it’s cooled down.”
“Fine by me,” I said as we came in, and took our shoes off – Heather has a strict no shoes in the house policy, and I suspect if she really could do it, she’d have a strict no shoes on her land policy instead. I then opened the door to her front room and went in, while Angela went with the others.
“There you are,” Heidi said as she jumped up and embraced me, “how are you?”
“Better when I can breathe,” I gasped as she let go and looked at me, her blonde hair down to her shoulders as Cindy and Natalie looked over. “It’s good to see all three of you though – where’s Alice and Jannifer?”
“Alice had to go somewhere with her parents, worst luck,” Nats said as she put her book down. She was wearing a long patterned skirt with her rope bracelets on her ankles, and a v-necked top, while both Cindy and Heidi seemed to have adopted the informal dress code for the day of polo shirts and shorts. “As for Jannifer...”
“Watching over Bobby.”
“Oh that’s right – we never told you,” Heidi said quietly. “When we got back from our spring break visit, Jannifer was whisked off by her dad. Her mom was in labour – Bobby’s three and a half months old now.”
“Must be the season for babies – don’t tell your mums I told you, but Freddie’s mum is expecting a baby at the end of the year.”
“Wow,” Cindy said as she stood up, “what else are you going to tell us about?”
“Lots of things,” I said with a smile, “but is there any danger of getting a drink first? I’d forgotten how hot it gets round here?”
“Oh we can soon get you cooled off,” Natalie said with a laugh, “after lunch though. Come on – we can join the others for a while. I think we’re eating outside.”
As we went through the kitchen and into the back yard, we saw Angela sitting with the other mums in the back yard. Amy and Dorothy were sitting next to each other, while Veronica and Katherine, Natalie’s biological and adopted mums, were helping themselves to some salad.
“Hi Alicia,” Veronica said as she looked over, “we were just going to call you girls out to eat.”
“Good timing then,” Heidi said as we grabbed some plates, put food on them and sat down. “Listen Aunt Heather – if we’re having a meal later, is it all right if we go down to the watering hole for the afternoon?”
“So long as you get back before we eat, then yes,” Heather said. “In fact – give Alicia the full treatment?”
“With extreme pleasure,” Heidi said with a grin, “with extreme pleasure...”
“Well, she did say to give you the full treatment,” Natalie said as I felt my arms being pulled into my sides by the rope around my chest.
“You girls know how this feels, right?”
“Oh yeah – but nobody else is going to see you, and our mums won’t say anything,” Cindy said as she held the sponge ball in front of my mouth. I opened wide and felt it press my tongue down, before they smoothed a length of white medical tape over my lips, and then put the sleep mask over my eyes.
I walked with them, my feet on the wooden floor and then the warm ground as I heard Heidi say “We’ll be back in a little while.”
“Have fun,” Angela called over as I felt the grass under my feet, while the sound of the chatter died away, replaced by the sounds of birds in the trees, and our feet on the ground.
“Whtrthsbrds,” I said, unable to see what they were.
“Mainly local birds – but they sure sound good today,” Natalie said as they walked along, and then they suddenly stopped. “Whttsswrng,” I said as I listened to the soft sound of something moving.
“Possum – let it go past,” Heidi said, as I listened for a few minutes, and then we started to move again. The summer air was considerably cooler under what I presumed was the tree canopy, until I was made to sit down on the cool grass, and I felt some sort of tree behind me as more rope was tied around my stomach and waist, holding me in place.
The feel of rope around my bare ankles as they were brought together, and then the rope around my legs, told me I wasn’t going anywhere before there was another sensation – one of the fingers of six hands starting to tickle my feet, legs and sides.
“Hmgddddntdthssss,” I said as I wriggled round, but come on – how on earth was I going to stop them from doing this?
“Admit it Ali – you would do the same to each of us in a heartbeat!”
I nodded as the sleep mask came off, and I found myself in the clearing by the watering hole, sat against a tree to which I had been tied.
“So,” Cindy said as she removed the tape and I pushed the sponge out, “How’s the rest of the family?”
“Probably having their evening meal,” I said with a grin. “Seriously, Andrew’s walking now, and starting to string a few words together. As for Suzie – she’s completely besotted with Lucy.”
“Oh yeah – got any pictures?”
“Not on me, doofus,” I said as I wriggled round, “but Angie’s probably showing them to the others as we speak, so you’ll get to see them later.”
“Okay – extra tickle for the doofus remark,” Heidi said as she tickled my sides, and then said “What about you and Martin?”
“We’re good – so are Jenny and Colin, and as for Cassie and Bobby, I think the odds on them being a permanent item have shortened considerably.”
“Ah l’amour, tojours l’amore,” Natalie said as she lay on her back, looking up at the sky. I looked at Cindy and Heidi, who laughed as she said “she’s missing Alice, that’s all.”
“Oh? OH – you mean?”
“Hmmm,” Cindy said as she sat next to me, “they’re trying to keep it quiet, but we all know.”
“Know what,” Nats said with her eyes closed.
“About what Fi’s grandmother did for you and Alice when we spent spring break down there,” Heidi said as she sat on the other side of me, and put a straw to my mouth to allow me to take a drink of water.
“Oh – that,” Natalie said as a smile played on her lips.
“Fi? Where do her grandparents live?”
“Outside San Antonio – we all went down for Spring break. Learnt to ride a horse, saw ranchers at work, visited The Alamo, all that sort of thing,” Cindy said as she looked out over the water. “Big place they had as well.”
“Anyway, what about you two,” I said as I looked at them, “how are your boys?”
“They’re good – In fact, you’re both invited to our place Tuesday to spend the night, if you’re up for it,” Heidi said.
“Jo’s anxious to meet up with your sister again,” Cindy said with a smile, “you know she and Alexa have decided to make a full commitment of it?”
“Yeah - is there a wedding in the air there as well?”
“Who knows – about as likely as Anne and Kayla,” Heidi said with a smile. “What about the Craigs?”
“Well, Connie and Dave have the two kids now – and the twins are almost as mobile as Andrew and Dan now. Sometimes, we look at them all playing together, and we wonder what’s going through their heads as well.”
“Think they’ll play the games as well?”
“Who can say for certain?” I closed my eyes as the sun shone down on my face, and felt the warmth on my skin.
“So, what is this I hear about a certain weekend recently?”
“Hmm – oh lord, how did you hear about that?”
“Your grandmother, my mother – they do talk you know, and I heard about what happened. Seriously – do you girls have this large neon sign that says “JAY EDWARDS WE’RE HERE?”
“It feels that way at times,” I said with a laugh, “but yeah – we spent the entire weekend as Victorian hostages.”
“Bad enough that day we spent as fifties girl detectives,” Natalie said, “but a whole weekend in long skirts, nobody able to see if you have anything on your feet or not...”
She then opened her eyes and looked at us, as she said “I like the sound of that.”
“See if you say that after wearing a whalebone corset,” I say with a smile as I wriggle round, the ropes rubbing on me. “I will say this – tied and gagged full job like that feels very, very different.”
“I can imagine,” Cindy said as she wriggled on the ground, “Oh damn it – who’s up for a dip?”
“We haven’t got any costumes,” I said.
“Who needs them,” Heidi said as she took off her top, Cindy doing the same, and then ran to the water, jumping in and swimming round in the clear water.
“They have a point,” Natalie said as she got up, and came over to the tree, untying me and helping me to stand up. “Come on.”
“Hey – aren’t you going to untie me,” I said as I jumped across the grass, the ropes rubbing on me as I did so. “I mean, you can’t swim when you’re tied up, can you?”
“Who says,” Nats said as we started to jump along the little jetty, my feet hitting the wood with each hop.
“Nats – seriously, what are you doing?”
“Showing you how much fun it can be – when you take the next jump, make it a big one and then float on your back.”
“The next jump? What do you mean the next HEY!”
I felt Natalie’s hand on my bottom as she smacked me, making me jump forward and off the pier, and then the cool water as I fell into the watering hole. The water covered me for a moment, before I push myself back up, using my bound legs like a flipper and then lie on my back after I break the surface.
“See,” Heidi said as she swam over and joined me, “easy, isn’t it?”
“How often have you done this?”
“Often enough – do a butterfly kick and you’ll be fine...”
Nodding, I started to kick with my legs, Heidi guiding me as we went to the side of the watering hole.
“On reflection,” Nats said as they helped me to stand up, “perhaps untying you and getting you to take your top off would be a good idea as well?”
“You think,” I said with a laugh as the water dripped off my top.
“All right – we’ll untie you and you can let your top dry out a bit, and then you can come in and join us,” Cindy said as the wet ropes came off, and I took my top off, watching Natalie as she slipped her skirt off, and then joining the other three as we jumped into the water and swam for a while.
“Where on earth did you learn that trick anyway?”
“Young Fi – something else we picked up at her place. She surprised us with it, and then she taught us it when we visited.”
“I’m just glad I didn’t have my purse with me then,” I said as I floated on my back. “I wonder if Granddad would let me do this in the lake?”
“At Holderness Manor? He’d probably say it would be disrespectful, given what’s on the island,” Cindy said as she swam by me.
“True – and it’s a lot colder there, but this is nice. I presume we’ll dry out in time before we get back?”
“Yeah – we’ll rest on the grass for a little while, and your top should be all right after that,” Heidi said as the four of us made our way back, and then lay down, the sun overhead drying us and our clothes out.
“So what plans have you got for the rest of the week,” Heidi eventually said.
“Apart from the invite to stop over? Nothing really – it depends on what Brian and Sarah want to do, so we’ll fit in with their plans.”
“They may get you to babysit one night,” Cindy said, “which shouldn’t be a problem. The twins are the most docile kids I’ve ever come across.”
“Well, in terms of sleeping through the night,” Heidi said as she looked over. “Anyway, when do we need to think about heading back Nats?”
“We’ve got a few minutes yet,” Nats said with a smile, “let’s just enjoy the sunshine for the moment...”
“There you are,” Brian said as we emerged back into the yard, “we were about to send search parties out for you. Go and wash your hands – dinner’s just about to go on the table.”
We went in, washed up and sat down as Heather looked at us. “You’ve been skinny dipping, haven’t you?”
“Not quite,” Natalie said, “but what gave it away?”
“The hair – I can tell its sun dried,” Angela said as the others sat down.
“Damn – nothing gets past you, does it,” I said with a laugh.
“Not these days kiddo,” Angela said, while Heather put the food out on the table.
“Is it next year you have to take your exams,” Amy said as she looked at me.
“Yup – and I need to start thinking about what I’m going to do for the last two years, as well as after that?”
“No desire to follow in Angela’s footsteps?”
“No offence to big sis, but what she studies isn’t exactly my scene,” I said with a smile. “No – I’ve been thinking of doing something media or music based.”
“The influence of Martin, right,” Heidi said as she looked at me.
“A little, but there are other things going on,” I said with a smile. If truth be told, working on the film had fascinated me, and I wondered if there was anything I could look at in that field.
“Have you considered design?”
I looked over at Heather, who was looking back at me, before I said “not really – I mean, art’s not exactly my subject either, but...”
“Sarah, do you mind if Alicia comes and spends a day with me this week? She can see what I get up to, and that might give her some ideas as well.”
“If she wants to, that’s fine by me – I’ll get Brian to run her down in the morning, and pick her up that night.”
“Good – how does Thursday sound?”
“I’d like that – thank you, “I said as I started eating.
“Which reminds me Angela,” Dorothy said, “Joanne asked if, when Alicia is visiting our house, you would join her, Alexa and Andrea for dinner that night?”
“Well, means I get to spend some time with them as well, so yeah,” Angela said.
“You can both come to our house first, and move on from there,” Amy said as she looked over at Sarah. “Are you all right, Sarah?”
“Yeah – just a bit tired,” Sarah said, but I could see Brian looking at her, and I could also see the way she was rubbing at the scar on her hand.
“There you are,” Brian said as we came into the kitchen on the Monday morning, “sleep well?”
“Yeah – did we hear Sarah up during the night?”
“’Fraid so – young Sarah here is teething again, so she needed the old gum gel and a cuddle,” Brian said as the dark haired girl smiled at us. “I’m letting her sleep on a bit before I have to wake her for the playgroup.”
“So nothing else on the plans for today?”
“Not really – I need to do some work out in the barn, but I’m sure you girls will be able to amuse yourselves for a couple of hours here.”
“Oh I think we can manage,” Angela said as Brian gave us both a glass of fruit juice, and started a new pot of coffee.
“So how do you make a living these days Brian – apart from...”
“The official work? I do electrical repairs for the people around here – fix their machines, things like that. That’s why I need to work in the barn – I’ve been asked to see what’s wrong with a printer that’s been brought to me. It shouldn’t take long, but you never know.”
“Never know what,” Sarah said as she came in, wearing a pink dressing gown.
“The girls asked what I was up to this morning.”
“Oh that old monstrosity in the barn? That’ll keep him occupied most of the morning girls. Would you like to come down to the playgroup with me?”
“No thanks,” I said as Brian put a plate of bacon and eggs in front of me, “I want to get in touch with Jenny anyway. Something we need to discuss.”
“Fair enough then – Brian, what are these two eating this morning?”
“Wheat biscuits,” Brian said as I watched the twins putting their biscuits into the milk and sucking on them. “Why?”
“Did they open the packet as well?”
“NO, I did that,” Brian said as he winked at us. Obviously, he hadn’t – but for a pair of toddlers, they did a damn good job of opening it up.
“So are they making friends down at the playgroup,” Angela asked as she ate her eggs.
“They are actually – especially Sarah. She does seem to attract the kids – although young Bart here does a good job of protecting her if she gets crowded.”
“Moves like greased lightning, I’m told,” Brian said as he passed round mugs of coffee and sat down. “So you’ll both be all right?”
“I think so, yeah...”
By the time I came down from a shower, wearing a pair of blue shorts and a matching vest top, Sarah had driven off with the kids and Brian was heading to the barn, wearing a set of grey overalls. Angela was lying on a recliner, reading one of her text books before she looked over at me.
“If you’re looking for the laptop, it’s in my room,” she said before she went back to her book. For a warm summer’s day, she was wearing a long sleeved denim blouse and jeans, but then that’s Angela – prefers casual smart these days.
So I went back up the stairs to the room she was using, and found the laptop case by the bed. Plugging it in using the adapter, I connected to the wireless network – one advantage of the work that Brian and Sarah do is that unlike a lot of people around here, they have an excellent network connection.
A few minutes later, I saw Jenny appear in the window, waving as she said “hey there – how are the woods today?”
“Warm and sunny – what about Holderness?”
“Sunshine and thunderstorms – typical summer, in other words. So what’s happened so far?”
“We saw Heidi, Cindy and Natalie yesterday.”
“How is Cindy,” Cassie said as she appeared in the window.
“Looking good – we’re going to do a sleepover during the week. No sorry – I am, Angie’s going to see Joanne and the older girls.”
“Sounds fun – make sure they stay in one place.”
“They already did that to me – did you know about their little swimming trick?”
“Cindy may have mentioned it to me – did they get you to do it?”
“Scared the hell out of me, but yeah – they got me to do it.”
I could hear a door opening and closing downstairs, but figured Brian had come back in for something.
“They even wondered if Grandfather would allow us to swim in the lake like that?”
“Your grandmother maybe,” Jenny said as she laughed.
“So what are you doing tonight?”
“I’m meeting up with Mary and Cathy – triple date.”
“Oh – is young Samuel visiting again?”
“So it would appear,” Cassie said with a grin before she walked off.
“Where did she go?”
“Helping Mum with something. Aunt Cassie and Aunt Jo have the twins for the day today.”
“So some peace and quiet?”
“A little – Rachel and Patty are across the road at Lisa and Charlie’s place, so there is that to be thankful for.”
I could hear Angela talking to someone now, as I said “look, I’ll let you get back to preparing for the big date. Call you when I’m with the girls?”
“That’ll be around midnight our time right?”
“Okay – talk to you then,” Jenny said as she ended the call, and I switched off the laptop, smiling and shaking my head as I walked down the stairs.
“Hey Angie – Jenny says to say Hi, and that...”
As I walked into the room, I saw that my initial assumption that it was Brian who had come in was incorrect. Angela was still on the couch, but there was someone else behind her – a young woman in an orange jumpsuit, holding a kitchen knife as she said “Oh look – you’re just in time to use this.”
She tossed me a roll of duct tape, and said “Tape her up.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying not to show just how stupid I thought this girl was as I caught the roll.
“Just do what she says, Alicia,” Angela said with a completely straight face as she looked at me, “after all, she has a knife.”
“All right, don’t hurt us,” I said as I tore the end of the tape free, and waited for Angela to cross her ankles before I wound the tape tightly round them.
“Now her hands behind her back,” the woman said, Angela nodding as I walked behind her and crossed her wrists, taping them together as I looked at the girl.
“Orange isn’t exactly your colour,” I said as I looked at her, tearing the tape from the roll and smoothing it down over Angela’s wrists.
“Yeah – I told the guards that. So I decided to take a vacation, change my look, get some dough – now sit down next to your sister here and tape your ankles together.”
“I’ve seen Orange is the New Black - nice show,” I said as I sat on the chair, and leaned forward to tape my own ankles together. Handing the roll of tape back to her, I allowed her to tape my wrists together behind my back, while Angela said “Well, I guess you’ll be looking for money now.”
“I might go get a shower first, and a change of clothes – you look as if you’re about my size,” the girl said as she looked at Angela, “lips together, cutie.”
Angela shook her head before she felt the tape going over her mouth, three strips in total, and then the intruder did the same to me, the two of us looking at each other before she said “Stay put” and made her way up the staircase.
We looked at each other, trying our best not to laugh, before I started to work my mouth and jaw, easing the tape away from my skin before it started to come away at the edge.
“Srrebtthis,” I said as I leaned over and used Angela’s legs as a rubbing post, peeling the tape away from my mouth and looking at her as she managed to shake the strips from her face.
“Well now – this is an interesting situation,” she said as she turned her back to me, watching over her shoulder as I used my teeth to peel the tape away from her wrists, “how old do you think she is?”
“How old does Alicia think who is?”
“Oh hi Brian,” Angela said as we saw him standing in the doorway, wiping his hands on a rag, “you’ve got an uninvited guest upstairs.”
“Oh have we,” Brian said as he raised his eyebrow, and listened to the shower running upstairs, “and she thought this would make sure she wasn’t disturbed?”
“She seemed to think it would be sufficient,” Angela said quietly as she shook her wrists free, “can you pass me those scissors please?”
“Sure,” Brian said as he handed Angela a pair of large scissors, which she used to cut me free and then her own ankles. “So, what do you want to do about it?”
“Well, it’s your house,” I said, “your rules.”
“Quite,” Brian said as he heard the shower stop. “Stay here quietly for a few minutes, will you?”
We both nodded as he put the rag down, and then walked up the stairs, not making a noise as we both wondered what he was going to do. There was silence for a few minutes, and then the sound of the young girl saying “What th...” before Brian walked back down, carrying her in his arms.
She had put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from Angela’s case, but her eyes were wide open as Brian laid her out on the couch.
“What did you do to her?”
“This? A little nerve pinch – you can hear and see everything, but you can’t move, can you?”
The girl’s eyes looked from side to side as Brian said “Well, I wonder if you two could show her how it really feels to be helpless, before I allow her to do anything.”
“Have you got any rope available?”
“Oh no – I think for this young lady, we need to use something else. While I fetch something, why don’t you see if you can make sure she can’t talk?”
“Full job,” I said to Angela as Brian walked away.
“Oh yes - full job.” She walked into the kitchen, and returned with an unused sponge and a strip of towelling. I took the strip and tied a knot in it, while Angela compressed the sponge as much as she could, and then prised open the girl’s mouth, pushing the sponge in before I pushed the knot between her lips and tied the strip around her head.
Her eyes were speaking volumes by now, as Angela went into the hallway, and returned with a pink headscarf that had a red rose pattern on it.
“Remind me to pay Sarah for this,” she said as she folded it in a triangle, and then tied it over the young girl’s hair, covering it as she secured the points together under her chin, then held her head up to allow me to wind the duct tape tightly round her head, sealing the strip and sponge in as she watched us.
“I think that will do it,” Brian said as he returned with two sets of handcuffs, and a small chain with hooks on either end. “Put her on her stomach, will you?”
We moved her down the couch and rolled her over, as Brian cuffed her wrists and ankles, linking the sets of cuffs with the chain, before he walked over to the telephone.
“Hello? Detective Hawkins please.
“Jack? Brian Holderness-Carter. You haven’t heard of any escapees from the local pen, have you?
“Is that right? Late teens, dark hair, about five nine?
“Okay then – want to take a ride up here with a couple of friends? I have a package for you to pick up.
“Thirty minutes – see you then,” he said as he put the phone down, and walked over to where our captive was lying still.
“Well now,” he said as he pressed down on her neck, “anything you might like to say, young lady?”
She shuddered for a minute, and then let loose with a string of mumbled invective which I managed to get a fair gist of the meaning of.
“Count yourself lucky,” Brian said as he squatted down and looked at her, “it could have been worse. It could have been my wife.”
She stared at him as he patted her head and said “she’s going nowhere, so why don’t I fix us all some coffee, before Jack gets here.”
Jack Hawkins is Alice’s father, and is indeed a police detective, so when he came in with two uniformed officers, and saw our unexpected guest on the couch, he rubbed the back of his head and said “You poor dumb stupid... Of all the houses out here, you picked this one?”
“She did,” Angela said as we looked in from the kitchen, “it’s good to see you again, Mister Hawkins.”
“Good to see you girls as well,” he said with a smile as the officers released the girl from the connecting chain, and frog marched her out of the house. “She was doing time for burglary and assault – and now for trying to escape as well. I take it she didn’t hurt either of you?”
“Come on Jack,” Brian said, “these two?”
“Point,” Jack said with a smile as Sarah came in with the twins.
“What did I miss this time?”
“Oh, just an escaped prisoner who thought this would be a good place to hide out and get some things to help her escape.”
“She did? Well, that must have made her day,” Sarah said as the twins came over to join us on the couch. “How about I fix some lunch?”
“No, let me,” Angela said as she stood up.
“I’ll see you guys around,” Jack said as he left the house, and I went to help Angela.
“Hey – your grandmother sent me this DVD of The Awakening,” Sarah said as we sat round the dinner table that night, “do you girls have any objections if we watch it tonight?”
“Well, I have no objections,” Angela said, “even though I’ve seen it a couple of times now.”
“Well, we’d have to make sure we didn’t spoil it for her,” I said as I drank my wine.
“Oh that can be arranged,” Brian said with a smile, “if you girls are willing?”
“Why not take care of all three of us,” Sarah said with a smile, “so long as you don’t mind listening out for the twins.”
“Oh I think they’re out for a few hours,” Brian said with a smile, “so why don’t the three of you get ready for bed, and then I’ll make sure you’re all comfortable?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Sarah said as she looked at us. We finished the meal, and then made our way upstairs, deciding we may as well get ready for bed if we were going to watch the film.
I washed, and then changed into a pair of knee length blue shorts and a t-shirt, while Angela put on a pair of pale cream pyjamas. As we came down, we saw Brian securing Sarah’s wrists behind her back, as she sat in her pale pink nightdress that came to just above her knees.
“I’m not going to cover anyone’s hands,” Brian said as he passed some rope round his wife’s waist to fix her wrists against her back, “because you’re going to promise you won’t try to free each other, right?”
We both nodded as he picked up some length of soft white rope, and stood behind us, crossing and tying our wrists together before he gave us each a rope belt as well. “Now then, Sarah likes to have her arms really well secured – what do you girls say?”
We looked at each other and nodded as Brian used longer lengths of rope on each of us, winding it above and below our chests to secure our arms to our sides, and then cinching it by taking the rope under one arm, up in front and around the back of our necks, and then under the other arm.
As the rope rubbed on me, I looked at both Sarah and Angela, Sarah nodding and saying “we know – don’t worry, all of us feel that way?”
“Makes me wish Eddie was here,” Angela said.
“Or Martin – I might even be tempted to...”
I realised both Brian and Sarah were looking at me, as I blushed and said “Well, you see...”
A short explanation later, Brian and Sarah looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” Brian eventually said as he wiped his eyes, “I know it’s not funny, not remotely, but still – that must have been one heck of a way to find out...”
“Still,” Sarah said, “tempting as it might be, we won’t tonight. Secure our legs please, Brian, and then keep us quiet.”
The three of us sat down, crossing our ankles and resting our feet on the coffee table as Brian tied our legs together at the ankles, below the knees and round our thighs, making sure he cinched each band by taking the rope between our legs as well.
“And now to ensure silence,” he said with a smile as we each opened our mouths, and he pushed a folded cloth in, before covering our lips with microfoam tape.
“Llrrtsrrtthfelmmm,” Sarah said as Brian put the disk into the player, and then sat next to her, his arm round her shoulders as we sat next to each other, wriggling round a little as the film started. From time to time, we’d glance over to see Sarah resting her head on Brian’s shoulder, the shape of her lips under the tape showing us she was relaxed and smiling.
From time to time she’d look over at us, and nod as we spotted ourselves in scenes, and we’d nod back in acknowledgement – but for some reason I could feel my eyes getting heavier and heavier.
I barely remember the film ending, and Angela nudging me, and then Brian saying something, before I was carried off as if the wind had picked me up, and I drifted off to a deep, deep sleep...
It was the sensation of tape been removed from my lips that made me wake up, as I saw Sarah standing over me. “Here,” she said as she removed the wet cloth from my mouth, “that should be better.”
“Yeah – thanks. Did I spend the night like this?”
“You did – Brian thought it would be easier if you just slept.”
“What time is it?”
“After ten – Angela and Brian have gone into town to pick up some supplies.” As she untied me, she said “if you get cleaned up and dressed, I’ll sort some food out for you. I need to ask a favour of you this afternoon.”
“Sure – what sort of favour?”
“Can you keep an eye on the twins – I have a counselling session in town, but I’ll only be gone for a couple of hours.”
“That should not be a problem – any special instructions?”
“Nah – just let them have their fun in the playpen really. Come on – let’s get you untied and then get you fed.”
A short while later, I was sitting at the table, wearing a t-shirt with a Flash logo on it and blue denim shorts, eating some toasted crumpets and drinking coffee as Sarah appeared, wearing a grey trouser suit and a light pink blouse.
“Chances are Brian and Angela will be back before I am, but don’t worry – I’m sure you’ll be fine with them,” she said as she waved to the twins and went off. I finished my crumpets, walked in to see them happily playing with their cuddly toys in the play pen, and sat myself down in an armchair, picking up a magazine to read and pass the time.
There was an article on local music bands that caught my eye, as I started to read it closely, humming to myself as I did so. I could hear the twins laughing at each other as my focus was taken up more and more by what the article was saying.
I suddenly looked to my side to see both Bart and Sarah sitting by me, smiling as they looked up. “Well now,” I said to them, “and how did you two get out of the playpen?”
Standing up, I lifted Sarah up and tickled her with my nose on her stomach, before putting her back in, and then did the same to Bart. “Now, you two play nicely in there,” I said as I sat back down, and picked up the magazine again.
I’d got to the second page when I felt someone holding my legs, and looking down I saw Sarah hugging my legs. Glancing over, I saw Bart using a pile of stuffed toys to climb out of the playpen, and then lower himself onto the floor, before he walked over to me.
“Oookaaay,” I said to myself, “have you been talking to Andrew or something? Listen – you two sit up here, I’ll get you a drink each, and we can watch something educational. Sound good?”
“Yes,” they replied in unison as I sat them on each end of the couch, before I went to the kitchen and put some juice into two lidded cups. Handing them to the twins, I sat between them and found a kid’s channel which we watched together.
An hour later, I looked up as Bart said “Hello dada.”
“Well,” Brian said as he looked at me, “comfy?”
“Necessity – they can climb out of the playpen.”
I nodded to the pile of soft toys, Brian looking at it and then at the twins, before he shook his head and said “I guess we’ll need to find another way to keep them safe. Might be time to break out the baby gates or something.”
“Why do I get the feeling they’d still find a way to get free?”
I looked at both of them, almost believing for a moment they knew what I was saying, before Angela picked them both up and hugged them.
“Come on Ali – they’re just babies. But they do seem to like sitting like that, don’t they?”
Actually, it did appear as if they did – which was actually quite a nice thing.
“So, you girls need to be ready to head off after lunch,” Brian said as he picked little Sarah up, “it’ll take a while to get down to Amy and Dorothy’s place.”
“Don’t worry, I got my overnight bag ready earlier,” Angela said as she sat down, “but sleepy head here?”
“Hey – I can be ready in a few minutes,” I said as I stood up, and headed up to my room.
“Don’t forget something for sleeping in,” Angela called up after me – as if I was going to do that...
“They climbed out of the playpen? Well, I guess it’ll be the cot next,” Sarah said as she looked at the twins. “We’ll need to keep an ear and eye out for that as well.”
As she ate her salad, she looked at me and said “by the way, we really did like that film, and you both did a great job in it. I’m told it’s a big hit in the UK.”
“Thanks to some free publicity,” Angela said. “I’ve brought over a catalogue from the film of the costumes used for the girls to look at later today.”
“Can I have a look,” Sarah said, Angela nodding as she went upstairs, and came back down with a glossy brochure. As Brian sorted some drinks out, she sat down and flipped through, smiling as she looked at some of the costumes.
“It must have been quite an experience,” she finally said as Brian handed her a drink. “I’m sure the girls will love looking at this as well.”
“We’ll head off in half an hour,” Brian said as he looked at Sarah. “Hey – you all right?”
“I think so – it was a tough session today,” Sarah said with a smile as she rubbed the side of her head, the wrist watch she always wore with a face glowing a light green...
Angela looked out of the window as Brian drove into town, smiling as we recognised some of the streets and buildings. She had been talking to Eddie just before we left, which explained the v-necked top and short skirt she was wearing, and she was smiling, which was always a good sign.
“And here we are,” Brian said as he pulled into the driveway of the house Amy and Dorothy shared with the girls. We could see Amy standing in the doorway, wearing her powder blue shorts and strapless top, smiling as we carried the twins in.
“Come on through,” she said, “the girls are hogging pool side, while the adults talk inside.”
“Sounds good to me,” Angela said as we went through, to find Heidi and Cindy sitting at a poolside table, wearing shorts over their bathing costumes. Natalie and Alice were in the pool, alongside two other familiar faces.
“Hey Jannifer,” I said as the dark haired girl waved at us, “and it’s good to see you as well Fi.”
“Good to see you too,” the younger girl said as she swam over and got out, coming over and hugging me. “Friendly faces are exactly what I need to see at the moment.”
“Family problems – my parents have split up for some reason.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said as I looked at her.
“Hey – they hadn’t been happy for a long time. I’m living with mom at the moment, so life really hasn’t changed that much.”
“Hey – enough moping,” Alice said as she splashed water at us, “did you bring costumes?”
“This time, I did. Where can I change Heidi?”
“Use my bedroom for the moment – and hurry up.”
“Hey – Angela.”
“Hi there,” big sis said as she hugged Joanne and Alexa. The two girls were wearing black t-shirts and jean shorts, as they went to sit at another table. I went off with my bag, returning a few minutes later in a blue bikini, and diving into the water to join the others.
“No hands or feet tied this time?”
“Nope – I just want to relax,” I said as I floated on my back – and was promptly soaked by Natalie and Jannifer kicking their feet up and down.
Well, there was a need for revenge after that, as the air filled with shrieks of laughter...
“Hey,” Dorothy eventually said as she came out with glasses of lemonade, “come out of the pool for a few minutes and have a drink.”
“Thanks Mom,” Cindy said as we came out, drying ourselves off a little before we each took a glass and sat down.
“So,” I said as I looked at Jannifer, “A baby brother?”
“Indeed – Bobby Dale. Has a ring about it doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Alice said as she sipped her drink, “if we didn’t have to deal with the poop talk.”
“Hey – you pooped as well, remember?”
“I know – but boy does it STEEENKKKKK!”
Knowing how bad Andrew’s nappies got at time, I nodded and smiled in sympathy.
“So, now that we’re all here,” Heidi said as she looked at me, “we need to make sure you tell us everything.”
“Everything about what?”
“Everything about everything,” Jannifer said as, to my total surprise, I was grabbed by the four older girls by my arms and legs and lifted off the ground, then carried into the centre of the lawn. I hadn’t seen the four stakes hammered into the ground, or the four coils of rope which they used to secure my wrists and ankles. Leaving me spread-eagled as Fi looked down at me.
“Now then, Miss Alicia Bowden,” she said as she stood with her hands behind her back, “tell me everything that you and Martin have been up to.”
“Or else what,” I said in a defiant tone as I looked up at her.
“OR else,” she said as she looked round, “I will be forced to deploy this.”
She took out from behind her back one of the most feared objects known to modern mankind, an evil grin on her face as she knelt by my feet, and started the head rotating...
According to Angela, my screams of laughter could be heard several streets away, never mind elsewhere in the garden and house. As it was, when I was finally able to focus my eyes, I could see all the mothers standing by the kitchen door, looking at me as I wriggled round.
“Yeah – the toothbrush torture,” Natalie’s mum said as she looked at me. “When we did that back in...”
“Young and impressionable minds present,” Dorothy said as the other girls turned and looked at her.
“Come on Mom...”
“all right – I was talking about Fi,” her mother said with a smile.
“Hey – I’m proud of having an impressionable mind. What do you want to impress on me?”
“Now you’ve done it,” Alice said, “there’s only one thing we can do in that case?”
“Oh – what’s that?”
“Get her girls!”
Well, I would have helped if I had been able to, but as it was I just had to lie there and watch as the four of them soon had Fi hogtied on a blanket, and were using the toothbrush on the soles of her feet.
“I’ll see you later,” Angela said as she waved to me, and she left with the older girls, “can you do that thing I asked you to do?”
“Sure – when I get a chance,” I called out over Fi’s screams of laughter.
“What’s she talking about,” Heidi said as she looked at me.
“Oh – well, it ties in with that film you all said you wanted to watch...”
“There they are,” Heidi said as she stopped the DVD, and pointed to the screen where Angela and I were walking in the background.
“Yeah, that’s us,” I said as I sat back on the long couch, “first day we had to wear those corsets – let me tell you it wasn’t fun.”
We were gathered in the main room of Heidi’s house, the mums sitting with me on the couch, the girls on the floor, and watching once again The Awakening – although the only comments I made was on some scenes, especially those where the game of Spot The Angela and Alicia was in progress.
The only mother not there was Fi’s – I knew she tended to leave her with Heidi and her other friends, but still...
As the ball scene started, the girls started to dance round the floor, making me laugh as Dorothy said “Come on you lot – if Alicia can sit and watch it, so can you.”
“Takes me back a bit to my acting days,” Veronica said with a smile. “Let me guess – you spent most of the time just sitting around and waiting.”
“True – at least when we were being held hostage, we got to do something,” I said as I looked round.
“What’s it like, being tied up in those outfits?”
“Not that much different – except for the fact we had those corsets on, so we had to be careful when moving because you don’t breathe the same way. Actually, once you got used to it, it was quite comfortable.”
“The ropes or the costumes?”
“Both,” I said as I looked at Nats, while the dancing started on the screen. “Actually, let me get something to show you.”
I left them watching the dance as I went to my bag, and came back with the catalogue, passing it round the mothers so that they could have a look, and then it went down to the girls.
“Oh my,” Cindy said as she looked at the dresses, “they do look different, and with those hats as well.”
“Well, I’m not that sure that they would fit you,” I said as I looked at them.
“Nonsense – I’m not that wide in the middle,” Natalie said with a smile.
“I don’t know...”
“I’ll prove it – Amy, have you got a measuring tape anywhere? Let’s get our measurements and see if those dresses would go on us.”
“Count me out – I’m definitely too small,” Fi said, as Amy went to fetch her sewing box, removing a measuring tape and taking veracious measurements as Dorothy noted them down.
Looking at them, I then checked the book before saying “All right, I was wrong. With the corset, some of those would fit you.”
“Pity – maybe next time you’re over, we can see about taking a trip down there for a couple of days,” I said as I stood up and stretched.
“That’ll be the food,” Dorothy said as the doorbell rang, “you girls taking the pizzas upstairs?”
“If that’s all right Mom,” Cindy said as she looked at us.
“Take some glasses from the kitchen up with you,” Amy said as Dorothy went to the door, and Cindy followed Heidi to the kitchen. I went out with Natalie, Alice, Jannifer and Fi, collecting the pizza boxes from Dorothy and then heading up to Heidi’s room while she took the other bags into the front room.
“This is the life,” Jannifer said as she plopped herself onto Heidi’s bed, “so come on, what was it really like?”
“It’s very difficult to explain,” I said as the others came in, and I looked at Fi.
“Hey – don’t let my age hold you back,” she said as she sat down.
“All right – you know what it’s like when you get the full job on your upper body?”
The five older girls looked at each other and nodded, as Fi said “I get that as well.”
“Well, when you have the corset on, it forms something like a solid barrier from here to here,” I said as I moved my hand from my waist to my chest. “So when our arms were tied to our sides, the only band of rope we could really feel when it rubbed against us was the one above our chests. We knew the others were there, but it didn’t feel the same.”
“I wonder,” Heidi said as she looked at Cindy, “want to show us something like it?”
“We’ll get changed first – in fact, let’s make this a real slumber do.”
We could all take a hint, as we went to our bags and changed. I had brought a blue vest top and shorts, a form of bedclothes that was shared by Fi and Alice, while both Jannifer and Natalie had gone for short nightdresses.
Cindy and Heidi, by contrast, had gone for long sleeved tops and bottoms, Heidi in red and Cindy in white, but when they went out of the room, I presumed it was to take care of business.
Instead, when they came in, they were both wearing an extra garment in the same colours – one that looked like a corset, but was made of softer material.
“They’re called basques,” Cindy said “apparently when we were away on Spring Break, the mothers had a night here on the theme of someone called Bettie Page – and this was the sort of thing she would wear.” They went round their stomachs and supported their chests, fastened at the back with little hooks.
“Well, let’s see. Want the full effect?”
“Go no,” Cindy said as Natalie pulled their supply box out.
“Fine – but I think you should have some pizza first,” I said as the boxes were opened, “while you still have the chance to.”
“Okay – I think I see what you’re getting at,” Heidi said as I wrapped the rope around her waist, and tied it so that her wrists were locked in place against her back. Both she and Cindy already had their hands covered, the tape holding the top of their sports socks to their arms, and their wrists secured together with rope.
“In what way,” Alice asked as she and Natalie worked on their upper arms, while Fi and Jannifer started to bind their crossed ankles together.
“I can feel the rope around my waist, and below my chest,” Cindy said as Nats pulled the ropes tighter around her, “but it’s not the same, not as – well, as close. Oh they’re doing their job, but still...”
“And this is wire and silk,” I said as I stepped back, “imagine what it’s like when it’s whalebone and stiff material.”
“Point... Nnn... Taken,” Heidi said as she wriggled round. “So, how were you gagged?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Go on then,” Cindy said as I took a folded cloth, and put them in each of their mouths, before using two rolled up chiffon scarves with knots in them as the cleave gag. I then wrapped white tape around their heads, before taking silver duct tape and using that as well, keeping the silver over the white.
“Keethsllwrk,” Cindy said before I used a white and a red scarf as the over gags, and then looked round the room.
“What are you looking for,” Natalie asked.
“We don’t have any bonnets,” I said, “where would I find woolly hats?”
“Probably in the store cupboard downstairs,” she said, “come on – we’ll go and have a look.”
I followed Natalie down the stairs, listening to their mothers talking in the front room, and then looked with her in a closet until I found two hats with ear covers, that had cords to allow them to be tied under the chin.
“Well, that should do the trick,” I said as we closed the door, and made our way back up to the bedroom. “Right – bonnet time,” I said as we walked in – and then stopped in our tracks.
Heidi and Cindy were lying on the bed, their eyes closed, but that wasn’t the worst thing. Nor was the fact that Alice and Jannifer were also unconscious on the bedroom floor.
No – the worst thing was the man who had Fi over his shoulder, looking at us with the other man next to him. Both were dressed in black, with balaclavas over their heads, as they stared back at us.
“Shit,” the one carrying Fi said, “drop them before they raise the alarm.”
Natalie had already turned to call out, before there was a soft phut, and she fell to the floor. Another phut, and I felt a jabbing in my arm, before I suddenly went very light headed. I vaguely sensed someone picking me up, as I went into a deep sleep...
“Stars shining bright above you,
Night breezes seem to whisper I love you
Birds singing in the sycamore trees,
Dream a little dream of me.
“Say nighty night and kiss me,
Just hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me.
While I’m alone and blue as can be,
Dream a little dream of me.”
I was sitting in a punt, watching as Martin slowly propelled the boat down the river, using the long pole to push us forwards. The sun was bright, the air was warm, and everything was perfect.
He looked so handsome in his open necked shirt and slacks, the straw boater perched at a jaunty angle, while I was wearing a white dress, the lace overskirt reflecting the sunlight as I dipped my hand into the cool water.
It could not be a more idyllic setting, as Martin looked down at me, and said in an American accent “she’s starting to wake up.”
An American accent? I looked at him and blinked, then blinked again...
“Yeah – you’re right.”
I blinked my eyes a few times to try and focus them, before I stared up at a stone ceiling. The two masked me were looking at me, as I slowly moved my head to the side and saw Natalie lying on another bed next to me, still asleep.
“Wh... Where am I,” I said quietly.
“Not important – there’s water over there for you to drink. We’ll be back in a little while.”
I watched as they walked out, locking the heavy wooden door after they closed it, and sat myself up, shaking my head as I saw the bottles of water on a low table. Slowly, I walked over and picked up a bottle, opening and sniffing it before I took a small drink.
“Take your time,” I said quietly as I saw Natalie wake up, “we were drugged.”
“Oh great – last time that happened...” Natalie slowly sat up, rubbing the side of her head and looking round, before she said “Yeah – that happened last time as well.”
“Okay,” I said as I handed her a bottle of water. “We’ve been kidnapped – and I presume Fi is somewhere around here as well.”
“Agreed – so Mom’s going to be mad as hell again,” Natalie said as she took a drink.
“Both of them – but last time Mom actually killed the person who kidnapped us.”
“Angela never told you the full story?”
“Nope – there are some things we don’t tell each other,” I said as I looked round. It appeared as if we were in some sort of cellar, with only small windows high up to let some light in.
“So we’re here, Fi’s here – who else?”
“You had to ask,” I said as the door was opened, and Fi was pushed in, along with a woman wearing a short sleeved top and Capri pants, who looked enough like her to be Fi’s mother.
“Answer your question,” Nats said with a grin as the door was locked again. “So, what’s going on Fi?”
“I have no idea,” Fi said as she hugged the other woman, “I was talking to Alice when I felt this pain in my neck – and the next thing I know, I’m waking up to see Mom looking at me.”
“Natalie,” the older woman said, what are you and...”
“Oh – yeah. Alicia, meet Fi’s mother. Mrs Hanson, this is Alicia Bowden, Heidi’s British friend.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Hanson,” I said, “even if it is here...”
“Indeed – what happened to the other girls?”
“When we got back to Heidi’s bedroom, they were already out. I guess we saw the men, so we were brought along too,” Nats said as she handed them a bottle of water. “Where did they find you, Mrs Hanson?”
“I was at home, minding my own business, when someone put a damp cloth over my nose and mouth, and then...”
“Chloroform,” I said quietly, “drink the water. You’ll feel better after that.”
As Fi and her mother drank from a bottle, Natalie and I looked round the room, and then I checked the door.
“So, what do you think?”
“No way we can reach those windows,” Natalie said as she looked up, “and that’s too heavy a lock for us to try and do anything with. Where do you think we are?”
“No idea – Mrs Hanson, do you know why this may have happened?”
“It’s because we need to talk to her husband.”
The door had been opened, and we saw the two men had woken us standing there, carrying what looked like chains with them. There was a third man there, who walked over to Mrs Hanson and said “where’s your husband?”
“I’ve no idea – he walked out on us a couple of months ago, and I haven’t seen him since.”
“Leave my mom alone,” Fi said as she ran over and hit the third man on the arm, before I noticed one of the other two men step forward.
“No,” I said quietly as I walked forward and put my hand on Fi’s shoulder. “Fi, just keep calm – these men have no idea what they’ve done.”
“I swear, I have no idea where he is,” her mother protested as the third man looked at us.
“Secure all three of them,” he said, as the other two came forward, one of them pulling Natalie’s hands behind her back as I heard the sound of handcuffs closing.
“Be brave, Fi,” I said as we watched the man make Natalie lie face down on the bed, and then used a second pair of cuffs to secure her ankles together, before pulling them back and securing them to her wrists with a third chain, “these guys have absolutely no idea what they have done.”
“What makes you so sure,” the other man said as he looked at me, and then went behind, pulling my arms behind my back.
“Fi, it’s no worse than ropes,” I said as I looked at her, “and besides, we’re not going to be here too long.”
“What makes you say that,” the man said as I felt the metal around my wrists.
“Our family will be looking for us, and our friends as well,” Nats said as I was made to lie on the other bed, and soon found myself hogtied with a chain.
“They won’t find you,” the third man said as Fi was made to lie next to me, and soon was bound in the same way. “Now I’ll ask again – where is your husband?”
“And I tell you, I don’t know!”
“Well, we’ll find out another way – silence these three.”
“Wait,” I said, “last chance – let us go and we’ll let you get away. But if you persist in this, then I can’t be held responsible for what happens later.”
“She’s right,” Natalie said, “you are making a big mistake.”
“OH be quiet,” he said as we all had a strip of duct tape pressed down over our mouths, and then we watched as Mrs Hanson was taken out of the room, the door closed and locked on us. We looked at each other, before Fi watched me working my mouth, and eventually pushing the tape away from my mouth.
“Rub in on the mattress and it will come away,” I said as I watched Natalie push the tape away from her mouth as well.
“”Come on Fi,” Nats said as she looked over, “I know you’re scared, so focus on us and do what we do.”
We watched as Fi managed to move the tape from her mouth, and thins aid “what’s going on?”
“Something to do with your dad – what does he do for a living anyway?”
“Well, he works – at least I think he still does – for a business that makes parts for airplanes.”
“What sort of parts?”
“I don’t know – he’s an engineer by trade, why?”
Nats and I looked at each other, before I said “this sounds sickeningly familiar, doesn’t it?”
“You thinking of Cindy and Dorothy?”
I nodded as Fi looked at both of us. “What are you two not telling me? And why aren’t you as afraid as I am?”
“Oh I’m scared,” I said quietly, “but these idiots have no idea just how much of a pile of guano they’re standing in right now.”
“No idea whatsoever,” Nats said in agreement as Fi looked at both of us.
“Fi,” I started to say, before the door was opened and the three men walked in.
“Hey – they got the tape off their mouths!”
“Not important – get the film, we’ll take care of them later. Nobody’s going to hear them anyway.”
We watched as one of the men filmed us on a video camera, and then they left again, closing the door behind them as we looked at each other.
“Okay – getting back to the topic of interest,” Nats said as she rolled onto her side. “Fi, if we tell you something, do you promise not to say anything about it until we’re all safe back home.”
“But who says we will get safely back home?”
“We do – you have to believe that,” Natalie said. “Listen – some time ago, all of us, including Britney and Margo, were kidnapped by a man who wanted to use us to get back at Anne Duncombe for something she did. What happened that weekend – well, let’s just say it took a while to get over, but we were rescued because of some very special friends we have.”
“Those friends,” I said as I looked at Fi, “also rescued my family from a much worse situation, and they will know what has happened. Fi, you have to trust and believe us – help is coming, and whatever may happen or you may hear, we will get out of this.”
“But how can you...”
“Trust us,” Natalie said as the door was opened again, and we saw Mrs Hanson come back in, her wrists secured behind her back and a short length of chain between the cuffs round her ankles. We looked at each other, wondering what was going on elsewhere...
“Aw for the love of...”
Anne Duncombe looked at both Amy and Dorothy as they sat at the kitchen table. “Are they all right?”
“Sore – we found them in the bedroom, untied Heidi and Cindy, and let them sleep it off, then we called you,” Dorothy said. “So who’s done this – and where are Fi, Alicia and Natalie?”
“I’ll tell you when I know the answer to another question,” Anne said as the door opened, and a smaller dark haired woman came in.
“Sue – well?”
“Not good news – the house was unlocked, and someone’s searched the place. Barbara Hanson has disappeared as well.”
“Fi’s mother? Anne, what’s going on?”
“You know we keep saying Alicia and her friends are like a magnet for this sort of thing? Well, this time they’re the innocent parties,” Anne said as she sat back and rubbed her eyes.
“Anne? What’s happened?”
“Hi Angela,” Anne said as she looked up to see her standing with Chloe. “I take it you’re heard?”
“That my sister has got herself into trouble again? Who else?”
“Fi and Natalie,” Anne said as Sue looked at the laptop, “and Fi’s mother has gone missing as well.” She looked over at her sister, who was watching something on the screen.
“Demands – they want her father, handed over to them within 12 hours, or...” She raised her hands in a gesture like something exploding.
“Mon dieu – should I...”
“Not this time,” Sarah said as she came in with Brian. “I need to do this one?”
Sarah nodded as she said “When do we know where?”
“Tech guys are working on tracing the source of the video,” Sue said, “do you have everything you need?”
“It’s in the bag outside,” Brian said. “Amy, Dorothy, mind watching the kids while we’re at work?”
“I will do so,” Chloe said quietly. “I understand from Angela they have learned how to climb out of the play pen?”
“Apparently – Angela, do you mind helping?”
“Not at all – just bring them back safely.”
“Oh I intend to,” Sarah said, the dial of her watch slowly turning dark green.
“Mom,” Fi said as she looked at Mrs Hanson, “Where is Dad?”
I had been moved to lie next to Natalie, while Fi was next to her mother on the other bed.
“Fi,” she said quietly, “I really have no idea where your father is. I haven’t spoken to him since he left.”
“All right, let me ask a different question,” Fi said quietly, “why did he leave?”
Before she got a chance to answer, the two men came in with bags from McDonalds, and cups, setting them on the floor before they uncuffed all four of us.
“Better eat and drink,” one of them said before they went out, “there’s nothing else today.”
As the door closed, I looked at them and said quietly “do as he says – Natalie and I need to tell you a story...”
As the three men walked back into the room, they found us sitting on the bed, looking at them with fear in our eyes.
“Seems your husband doesn’t want to play ball, Mrs Hanson – more’s the pity. Take her out of here.”
“Please, she’s just a kid...”
“I said get her out of here,” he shouted as one of the other two men grabbed Mrs Hanson and dragged her out. “As for you three – face down, hands behind your backs.”
“You guys really have no idea what’s about to happen, do you,” I said as my wrists were pulled behind my back, and I felt some rough rope been used to bind them together.”
“Oh I have a fairly good idea – her daddy won’t play ball, and he was told what’s going to happen.”
“Remember Fi,” Natalie grunted as she felt the rope pulled tight around her arms and chest as she lay there, “whatever happens, you will be safe.”
“I believe you both,” Fi said as her arms were pulled tightly into her sides, and the ropes secured behind her back, her wrists pulled up to the chest bands.
“Pity we gotta do this to you girls,” the other man said as we each had our ankles crossed and secured, and then out legs tied below out knees before we were hogtied, “but orders is orders. Gag ‘em.”
“Here we go again,” Nats said as she winked at me, and then I opened my mouth to let him push the folded cloth in, my cheeks bulging before he wrapped the black tape around my head. Once all three of us were gagged like that, we looked at each other as one of the men set up a video camera, and the other placed a box on the floor, the timer on the top set to two hours.
One hour, fifty nine minutes, fifty seconds...
Anne and Sue turned round to see Brian come in with a tall, broad shouldered man, who stared at them wide eyed.
“What’s happened to my family,” he said as he looked at them.
“Where did you find him?”
“Right where you said to look,” Brian replied as he closed the door. “So he did a deal?”
“Yeah – I give evidence against the family, in return for a shorter sentence, but Barb and Fi knew nothing about this. That’s why I left them – to protect them.”
“Well, it backfired – Brian, we have a location. Twenty minutes away. Ready to roll?”
Brian turned and looked at Sarah as she came in, dressed in pink leather and pulling on the gloves.
“Kayla’s coming with you,” Anne said quietly, “bring them home.”
The three of us were watching the red number slowly ticking down, and then stop at one hour.
“Whtthhllsshpnd,” Fi said as she looked wide eyed at us.
I shook my head, mainly because I had no idea why the clock had stopped, when one of the men came in and looked at the timer.
“Damn thing – always sticks at that point,” he said as he hit it on the side, and it started to count down again.
“Cmmnnbrnn,” I mumbled to myself as Natalie looked at me, and then at Fi.
The clock had ticked down to fifteen minutes when we heard a female voice outside.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, “I was driving past when my car broke down and... Oh my, I can see you are busy, I’ll just...”
“No,” one of the men said, “no, I think you’ll come in and join us, my dear lady. Boys, make her feel secure.”
I nodded in response to Natalie’s comment, both of us turning and looking at Fi as she looked back at us.
“Ysss – bbrrfltllngr...”
We watched the clock lowly count down.
“Sorry we’re late girls – took a little longer to get in than I anticipated.”
“Heeebrn,” Natalie said as we suddenly realised Brian was on the floor, looking at the box closely.
“Explanations later, young Fi – first things first. Your dad says Hi and is waiting for you, and your grandparents are in the air from San Antonio.”
“That’s right,” Brian said with a smile as we all heard the sounds of gunshots. “Listen, just ignore what’s going on out there and look at me. I just need to take care of this, and then I’ll untie you all, all right?”
Fi looked at us as we nodded, and watch Brian look over and feel round the box, before he took a small pair of wirecutters out and snipped a white wire. The timer on the top stopped at one minute thirty seconds, as he smiled at us and said “Well, the good news is, no big bang today. Just let me make this totally safe.”
He took a couple of clamps out of a pouch on a belt round his waist, and attached them either side of the timer with a wire connecting them, as we heard a muffled scream – and then the man who had led the group screaming “Oh my freaking... WHAT ARE YOU...” and then his scream.
“It most certainly is,” Brian said as he took his scissors and cut the tape away from Fi’s head, taking the cloth out from her mouth as she said “Dad’s really waiting for me?”
“He is indeed, Fi. But – and it’s a reasonable big but – I need to do something first. So would you mind untying these two while I go and take care of that?”
“No – no of course not,” Fi said as she rubbed her wrists, Brian smiling and nodding to us as he said “back in a minute” and left the room.
“You guys were not kidding,” she said as she removed our gags, “but what was the lead bad guy screaming for?”
“Probably best you don’t ask that question just now,” I said as I stretched out my legs. “Trust us on this one Fi.”
“Okay then,” she said as we all stood up, “but who else would...”
“Fi! Praise the lord, you’re all right!”
Mrs Hanson ran in, and grabbed Fi in her arms, hugging and kissing her before she looked at us. “You were right – but how...”
“Explanations later,” Brian said as he re-appeared with Sarah and Kayla, Sarah dressed in pink leather as she completed fastening the front of her jacket, “let’s get out of here and take you to see your father.”
As we walked out, I glanced back and saw Kayla looking at two bodies, and the leader sitting against the wall, his face in a truly hideous grin. Shaking my head, I followed the others out to where an ambulance was waiting, and we got in, saying nothing as we looked at each other.
We stood and watched as the Hanson family hugged each other, before I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to see Anne Duncombe beckoning with her finger.
“We’ll give them some time alone, and then Sarah can have a chat with Fi and her mother,” Anne said as we went into another room. “Heidi and the girls have called to say they’re going to come up and see you Friday.”
“Are they all right?”
“Had sore heads, but otherwise fine,” Anne said as Sue, her sister came in. “Those guys wanted to force Fi’s father out of our protective custody – should have realised they’d try and pull a stunt like this, but hindsight is the best teacher of all. I’m just sorry you two got caught up in this.”
“Look at it this way,” Natalie said, “we both knew if we were in trouble, someone would come.”
Anne nodded as she said “Sarah had an idea something like this might happen, so she was prepared. Natalie, your mother’s on her way over. Alicia, Sue’s going to take you to Sarah’s place – I’ve got paperwork and other things to do here. Just do me one favour – lay low for the rest of your trip.”
“Well, I’m visiting Heather tomorrow, but apart from that...”
“Good – I’ll talk to her as well. Sue?”
“Come on,” her sister said as she stood up and put a jacket on, “my car’s outside.”
“There you are – are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Angie,” I said as both she and Chloe looked at me. “I’ve been through worse.”
“True, actually,” my older sister said with a smile.
“Hello you two,” I said as I bent down and picked up the twins, “you behaved yourself for Aunt Angela and Aunt Chloe?”
“They have been exemplary,” Chloe said as she looked at them. “Sarah?”
I nodded and said “she’ll be back later. You need to add Fi and her mother to the list of those who know.”
“Sarah will talk with them, and help them,” Chloe said as she took Bart. “In the meantime, why don’t we all have something to eat? I suspect you are hungry, non?”
“Oui – I mean yes,” I said with a smile, “I’ve had my McDonald’s ration for this trip.”
“Then we shall see what is in the kitchen,” Chloe said as Angela put her arm round my shoulder. “You’ll need to tell mum and dad at some point – preferably before Sarah calls our grandparents.”
“I know,” I said quietly. “Angie – that weekend at the manor house. Did you see Sarah at work?”
“No – that was the Craigs. But – let’s just say it’s a good thing you had Fi with you. Come on – let’s eat.”
“Hey – wake up sleepy head.”
I opened my eyes to see Sarah standing by the bed.
“What time is it?”
“Just after ten – we felt it would be better if you had a little lie in this morning. How are you feeling?”
“Rested, I think,” I said as I sat up. “Sarah, can I ask a question?”
“Sure – what is it?”
“Just how many people know who you really are?”
“Only those I really trust – the others, well, when I counsel them, the memory of the woman who arrived seems to fade with it. Probably another of the defence mechanisms I have now. Anyway – up and at them. I have breakfast ready, and then Brian’s going to drop you off at Heather’s place.”
“Oh,” I said as I stood up and stretched, “where’s he going today?”
“To see Alice’s father – he rang earlier and asked Brian to call in at the station house. No idea why, but I’m sure we’ll find out in due course. Angela’s gone off with Chloe and James for the day, so as soon as you’re ready, you can go.”
Nodding, I headed for the bathroom, thinking through some of the questions I would want to ask today.
“Here we are,” Brian said a she pulled up outside Heather’s farmhouse, Natalie’s aunt coming out and smiling as she wiped her hands on a rag. She was wearing an old pair of denim dungarees, the legs rolled up to reveal her bare feet and ankles, and a black t-shirt underneath.
“Hey there,” she said as I climbed out, “I see you came prepared?”
“Well, I figured it would be the right thing,” I said as I looked round. I was wearing an old blue sweat shirt and jeans, with sandals on my feet.
“I’ll swing back round at about six to pick her up – if I’m going to be late, I’ll call,” Brian said out of the window before he drove off.
“Right – first things first. Inside, take those off, and we’ll have some coffee while you tell me what happened to my niece this time.”
“You mean she or her mother haven’t told you?”
“I haven’t asked,” Heather said as she led me into the kitchen, waiting until I took my sandals off before we sat down, “so tell me now.”
“I saw Fi and her parents talking, and then Sue took me back to Brian and Sarah’s place. After that, I ate, and – well, I woke up this morning.”
Shaking her head, Heather just smiled and said “yeah – that seems to happen every so often around her, but at least you’re all right.” Putting her coffee cup down, she said “right – so you may be interested in working in the media world? Tell me what really fascinated you about the process while you working on the film.”
“I don’t know if I can put my finger on one thing...”
“Okay – let me put it another way. What bored the heck out of you?”
“Apart from the waiting around between cuts?”
“Yeah – apart from that,” Heather said with a smile.
“Well, like I said, the idea of how a scene is set up, the way the set is dressed, all of that – but also, like I said, art isn’t exactly my best subject. I like history, and I like the idea of researching something properly.”
“And you like music as well, if I’ve heard correctly?”
I nodded as Heather sat back. “Okay – let’s try a little experiment here. I’ve been asked to provide some designs for a video shoot for a new song. What I want to do is play it for you, and I want you to tell me the images it invokes in your head as you are listening to it. Be completely honest – I want your impressions as they come. Sound good?”
“Sure – where do you want me?”
“Undistracted by anything else – come with me,” Heather said as we stood up, and she led me out of the kitchen, and into one of the barns. There was an old wooden chair sitting in the centre of the floor, which she indicated I should sit in.
“What are you going to do, strap me in it,” I said as I looked at the leather belts attached to the arms.
“Yup – unless you have any objections?”
“Just reminds me a little of a recent doctor’s appointment, that’s all.”
Heather looked at me, and said “The worst thing I’m going to do is blindfold you. Put your arms on the rests please, palms down.”
I watched as she fastened the thick leather straps round my wrists, and then my arms just below my elbows, and then strapped my ankles and legs together. “Now then,” she said as she picked up a black sleep mask, “We’ll do this in two stages. First, I’m going to play you the music without the words, and I want you to just describe what the music invokes in you. Then I’ll play it again with the words, and you can say if anything strikes you as different, understand?”
“Got it,” I said as she fastened the sleep mask over my eyes, totally cutting out all the light, and then said “I’m going to put the earphones over your head now, and when the music starts, start talking. Remember, whatever comes into your head, nothing held back.”
Nodding, I felt the pressure of the headphones on my head, and then I heard the sound of a flute playing a soft melody, followed by a guitar accompaniment.
“It’s a country meadow,” I said, “the flute seems to be invoking the sound of a sift wind blowing over the grass. I can imagine someone sitting there, just looking out over the world, enjoying the peace and quiet.”
The guitar and flute continued as a second guitar joined in, and I could hear a soft beat on the drums, as if someone was using brushes rather than sticks.
“They’re waiting for someone, the guitar tune seems to be invoking a yearning, a wish for someone to arrive. Not sure who or why, but it’s there. What’s more, the wind is picking up – the flute seems to be getting louder.”
It wasn’t the only thing getting louder, as I heard a saxophone start to come in, the melody coming over on that as well before it softened again.
“That must be the bridge – I would imagine from it, whoever she has been waiting on has arrived and they have greeted each other – and now, they’re parting again.”
The tune finished on the flute alone, as I said “does any of that make sense?” I wasn’t expecting to hear an answer – especially given Heather has already said she wanted me to hear the tune with the lyrics after that.
The song began again, and I heard a female voice singing of waiting for someone – her lover perhaps - to come to her. I smiled to myself as I said “I guess I was fairly close then...”
As the saxophone came in, however, the middle eight revealed she was mourning her lost lover, and somehow he had come back to her, for one fleeting moment, before she felt him fade away. “Oh,” I said quietly, “that...”
I felt the headphones removed, and then the sleep mask as Heather looked at me. “That was quite, quite remarkable Alicia,” she said as she unstrapped me, and handed me a tissue as I realised I had started crying. “You caught the spirit of that song exactly.
“Was I any good?”
“Well,” she said as she glanced down at a pad she had been scribbling on, “it beats my initial idea of a woman writing a letter to her lost love. Look – I do not advocate the idea of doing what I did to help, but one aspect of working in media is deciding what images and concepts would fit certain pieces of music.
“Take this for example,” she said as she went to her music player, and started to play some music.
“That’s Air on a G string – Bach.”
“Quite right – but in the UK, if you are of a certain generation, that music will instantly bring to mind an advert for cigars. Dvorak’s New World symphony – bread. Orff’s Carmina Burana – after shave.”
“I see what you mean,” I said quietly.
“So, one of the aspects of film and television production is considering what music might fit certain scenes – and another is to listen to music, say a song like you did, and consider what the best way of visualising that music is. You don’t have to be the person who actually does the drawings, or the design, but you provide the vision.”
“I get it – so you provide the idea, maybe the rough sketches...”
“... and someone else takes that and runs with it, in conjunction with you. It’s an idea for you to consider – and to do that, then what you need is an appreciation of music and visuals, not necessarily art.
“Now,” Heather said as she looked at me again, “you know I am an artist, and a set designer. Let’s try this the other way round – come with me in here.”
I walked through a door and looked at – well, at a coffin lying on a slanted table.
“Wow – Dracula territory,” I said as I looked at it.
“Exactly – what music comes to mind when you look at it?”
“Sombre – something with organs or a large string group?”
Nodding, Heather said to me “now, if I told you this was for a spoof, a comedy, what would you say?”
“Same thing – I’ve seen some examples of how music can affect the impression a scene can give, but to me comedy is about the whole package. You make it sound jaunty, and it might spoil the joke.”
Heather nodded as she looked at me. “Yeah – I think you’re getting the idea. Take your skills, your views and be prepared to state them in a positive manner.”
“So what sort of course should I consider?”
“Well, if this really interests you, definitely music – but also I’d seriously consider English in some form if you get the right grades. Also history – I’d definitely lean towards the arts and humanities.”
I nodded as Heather said “Let me show you what else I’m working on now.”
The rest of the day really consisted of Heather showing me how she went about her job – from accepting a commission, to the design sketches, building the item and finishing it off. The truly amazing thing as the way she accepted I would probably not do what she did, but wanting to show me how she worked as an artist in this field. The lessons she taught me then – well, let’s just say I applied them later.
It was about four when we were sitting in the kitchen, having a late meal as we talked about the girls and the families.
“So do you think Natalie is going to follow in your footsteps?”
“No idea – I don’t think Kath has talked to her about it at all yet, and I certainly haven’t. My one piece of advice to her has always, always been to follow your dream and do the best that you can. I think the same advice applies to you – save you have to make some choices about courses a little earlier than she does.”
“Damn those different education systems,” I said with a smile as I sipped my juice. “Still, thanks for all your advice, Heather.”
“Hey – my pleasure,” she said with a smile. “Listen, seriously – if you want to talk things over at any time, and it’s convenient, give me a call and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.”
As I smiled in reply, I heard a car pulling up outside. “You expecting anyone,” I said as I looked at Heather.
“Let me go and look,” she said as she went to the front door, coming back with Katherine and Natalie.
“Hey – how you feeling today,” Nats said as she sat down, her gypsy skirt rising up a little as she did so.
“I’m fine - you?”
“I’m good – look, Fi wants us to go to her place tomorrow, if you’re up for it. Her grandparents are in town, and would like to meet you and Angela.”
“Well, if she’s happy with that, fine. Heidi and the others going to be there?”
“Yeah – we’ll make sure you get a good send off.”
As we were sitting round the breakfast table the next morning, Sarah looked at us and said “Brian and I need to tell you something.”
“Oh, what,” Angela said as she looked at Brian.
“That girl who paid us a visit on Monday,” Brian said as he looked at us, “anything strike you as funny about her?”
“Apart from the fact she’s a teenager in a federal prison?”
“Apart from that,” Sarah said with a smile.
Sitting and thinking about it for a moment, I said “yeah – how did she get in here in the first place? I thought you had sensors all over the place?”
“True,” Brian said with a smile, “and a very good question. Jack and I went to have a chat with her yesterday, and we’re going to be following up on a few things over the next couple of days.”
“She’s not like you, is she? You know – different?”
“Us, different?” Sarah laughed and then said “we’re not sure – but we both felt you needed to know that, in case I’m not around when you go tomorrow.”
“Right then,” Brian said as he gave Bart a slice of toast, “you’re going over to the Hanson place later. This, from what I understand, is a minor miracle in itself.”
“They haven’t exactly gone out of their way to make the girls welcome until now,” Sarah said as she fed Sarah Jr, “but I think the events of the last couple of days have made them appreciate just how good a set of friends they are. Anyway, you’ve got the rest of the day to catch up on other things.”
“So how did yesterday go,” I said as I looked at Angela.
“Interesting – Chloe told me the plans for their wedding. Should be quite an event.”
And that was all she was going to tell me about that, as we decided this would be a good day to go shopping for gifts.
“She lives here,” I said as Sarah drove us up the driveway to a large single storey house.
“They certainly do – imagine her rattling around here on her own until she got to know the other girls,” Sarah said as she stopped the car and we got out. We both had on shorts and t-shirts, but when the door opened it wasn’t Fi or her mum and dad we saw.
It was a grey haired woman, wearing a pale green short sleeved blouse and jeans, who smiled as she looked at us.
“You must be Sarah,” she said as she hugged our friend, “I’m Fiona, Fi’s grandmother. And that would make you Alicia, and you Angela, correct.”
“That’s right,” Angela said, “we’re very pleased to...”
“Oh come here,” she said as she hugged both of us. “I want to thank you for what you did this week.”
“But I didn’t do anything...”
“Yes you did – you came over with this young lady,” Fiona said as she looked at me. “Anyway – come in, come in. Everyone’s in the back.”
“Why do I get the feeling Grandma would like her,” Angela whispered in my ear, and I could only nod in agreement as we went into the building and out of the back.
Fi ran over and hugged me as she said “I’m so glad you could come. It’s good to see you as well Sarah – and this is your sister Alicia?”
Angie nodded as Fi hugged her, and then said “Grandpa Joe – come and meet my English friends.”
A tall man, with skin and a build that showed he worked outdoors, came over and looked at us. “Pleasure to meet you both – Joe McLintock,” he said as he shook out hands. “I understand you were one of the two ladies who kept my granddaughter safe, little one?”
“All I did was told her someone would come to rescue us,” I said quietly as I looked at him.
“Well, reckon that was all that was needed,” he said with a smile. “And you must be the counsellor. You did a damn fine job with my girls, lady.”
“My pleasure,” Sarah said with a smile as we walked over to the poolside. Fi was wearing a pair of shorts over a blue swimsuit, while her mother had on a pair of blue pedal pushers and a white short sleeved blouse.
“I’m so glad you could visit,” Barbara Hanson said as she hugged us, “this is my husband Dirk. Dirk, this is Angela and Alicia Bowden, and you met Sarah the other day.”
I saw Fi motion with her head, so after we shook his hand I left Angela and Sarah, following Fi to a nearby table.
“Is it true you and Sarah are related?”
“Distant cousins,” I said with a smile, “so how are you?”
“Confused, but at least I know what Dad did what he did,” Fi said quietly, “he was trying to protect me and Mom from some crooks. Didn’t exactly work – but the last thing they expected was what happened.”
“And talking to Sarah?”
“Helped – helped a great deal. It’s like we were able to unburden everything on her – so Dad’s back, and we’re going to make a few changes round here, including them allowing the girls to come round.”
“Well – quite some place you have here, Fi Hanson.”
“Speaking of which,” she said as we both stood up and hugged the rest of the girls, all of them wearing shorts and t-shirts. “I really am glad you finally got to come here – after all the times I’ve been to your houses...”
“Hey – we’re glad to be here,” Cindy said as she looked round, “and to see your grandparents again.”
“So are your parents back together,” Heidi said as she looked over.
“Oh yes we are – and if you don’t mind Alicia, we’d like your help with something this afternoon before we eat. You see. Mum, Granny and I have been talking about the games, and she wants to do a little challenge...”
“Oh,” Natalie said, “and what exactly will the rest of us be doing?”
“You’ll see,” Fi said with a smile.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Mrs Hanson?”
“I’m sure,” Fi’s mother said as we stood in the main room of their house, “I stopped playing these games a long time ago, but talking with Sarah, and then with Mom and Fi, I think it’s time I tried again, and this seems a good way of doing it.”
I had just finished taping a sock to her arm, so that all three generations had their hands covered by socks – and under the socks were taped fists, their fingers sinking into sponges.
Taking lengths of rope, I walked behind them and started to bind their crossed wrists behind their back, Fiona looking on as I bound Fi and her mother.
“I see you know what you’re doing,” she said with a smile as I tied her wrists together, and then fed rope through their belt straps to make sure their wrists stayed against their backs.
“Mrs Hanson, I’m going to bind the arms of all three of you to your sides now,” I said quietly, “but I need to ask if you want Fi to be spared any particular sets of ropes.
“No,” she said as she shook her head, “when I agreed to this, it was on the condition all three of us were treated the same way.”
“All right then,” I said as I took the first of three long lengths, and wrapped it round Fi’s body, pulling her arms into her sides as I wrapped it round above and below her chest, and then tightened it after I tied the main band off with two shorter lengths under her arms. As she wriggled round, I bound her mother and grandmother in the same way, Barbara sighing a little as I did so.
“You have had a lot of practice,” Fiona said as I helped them to sit on the floor, and then went to work on their legs, crossing and binding their ankles and then securing their legs together below their knees.
“Okay – you sure you want me to go all the way, Fi?”
“It’s a part of the challenge – do it,” she said, so I started by putting a clean folded cloth into each of their mouths, and then using a strip of towel with a knot tied in it as a cleave gag.
I didn’t hear anyone in the doorway as I then wrapped the white medical tape round their heads, and then the silver duct tape over the top of that.
“Hmmgssdfrrntt,” Fiona said as I then folded the three headscarves Fi’s mother had provided, and covered their mouths with that. Once that was done, Fi lay on her back and rolled over, watching over her shoulder as I pulled her ankles back and secured them to her chest ropes.
“Gmnnbrrbbr,” Fiona said as she copied her granddaughter, and then her mother did the same, so that all three of them were looking at each other on the floor.
“Now then – you can try and get free, but I don’t think you will,” I said quietly, “so someone will be along to free you in...”
“A few hours,” I heard Joe say as, to my great surprise, a lasso of rope fell over my head and my arms were pulled into my side. “We’ll take care of the girls, little miss – you need to come with me.”
“I have a choice?” I said as I was pulled back, and the rope wound above and below my chest, before my arms were pulled behind my back.
“Nnnudnntt,” Fi said with a giggle as my wrists were secured, and a knotted bandana was held in front of my mouth. I really had no choice, as I opened my mouth and tasted the cotton no my tongue while the band was pulled round my head, the ends knotted at the base of my neck.
Joe led me down to the basement, where to absolutely no surprise on my part I saw the other five girls lying on the floor, looking up at me. It was obvious they had been bound with a single length of rope, as I found out as I lay next to Heidi, and Joe pulled my ankles back, using the rest of the lasso to secure them together and leave me in a hogtie.
“Ukknsshcngttfths,” Alice said as she looked up.
“Yeah, for all I’ve heard I reckon she could,” Joe said with a smile, “but the question is, do y’all? I remember you all watching the sunset like this, so I reckon you’re going to just enjoy been down here for a while, right?”
I don’t know why he reminded me of my grandfather in that moment, but Joe McLintock really did, so I decided – and I could see the others had as well – to just take some time out in the cool cellar, and enjoy some quality time with the others.
I had to admit, Fi’s grandfather was skilled – I mean, it was one piece of rope, but the knots were tight and complex, and even f ii could reach them with my fingers I suspect I would never have managed to undo them. If we were going to get free, it would have to be with the help of the other girls – and frankly, I don’t think they were in the mood to do that.
He had left us on comfortable mats, we were secure, and able to hold a reasonably good conversation with only the knotted bandanas in our mouths.
“Srdeeetghmmgenn,” Heidi said as she looked at me.
“Ntreelleee – njnggmslfteemsh.”
I looked at Jannifer, who was shaking her head and laughing, as I said “Whtsssfnneee?”
“Nfngngg, nfnngg. Lsnn – ebtttmrrew.”
I looked at Heidi, who smiled over her rapidly darkening knot as she said “ceeeee, wfgtsmtckts...”
“Well now,” I heard Joe say as he came in, “I reckon you little ladies have had enough alone time.”
He reached behind me and pulled on the rope, and it literally fell away from me, my ankles and wrists loose as I stood up and it fell to the floor.
“How did you...” I said as I pulled the bandana from my mouth.
“Trade secret,” he said with a wink as he freed the others, “as for my family, well you did a real god job on them. Why don’t y’all freshen up for supper while I take care of them?”
“He is one amazing guy,” Alice said as she rubbed her wrists, “you should have seen how we rode bound on horseback at their ranch.”
“I can imagine – did I understand you correctly,” I said as I looked at Heidi.
“I hope so – otherwise someone’s telling porkies, and I don’t think it’s me.”
I smiled as we made our way back outside, and sat by the pool again while Sarah came and sat with us.
“So another couple of weeks and you’ll all be back at school,” she said as she sipped her drink.
“Tell me about it – think it will be a quiet year this year?”
“Who knows – but the summer’s not over yet...”
When it was eventually time, to leave, Fi motioned for me to come with her for a moment. She took me back into the front room, where her parents and grandparents were sitting.
“Alicia,” her father said, “we wanted to say thank you for everything you did this week, and I think there’s only one way we can really do it. It’s a small thing, but...”
Fi handed me a box wrapped in blue paper, and when I opened it I saw a small pearl and gold brooch inside, in the shape of a music note.
“Oh,” I said quietly, “I cannot accept this, it’s...”
“Please,” Fi’s mother said, “Alice also has one, and we want you to have it to remind you of us.”
I nodded quietly, said “thank you” and walked out, wiping a tear from my eye as I did so.
“Hey – you all right kiddo?”
“Yeah – I just wish we had more time here.”
“I know – but new adventures await us, Kemo Sabay.”
“Well,” Brian said as we pulled up at the parking lot at Boston Logan Airport, “here we are. Time always seems to pass quickly when you’re having fun.”
“I know,” Angela said as we got out, and Brian loaded our cases onto a trolley, “but it will be good to get back home again.”
“True,” I said as I followed them in. I had on a pair of jeans, sneakers and a polo top, while Angela had a white blouse and skirt on.
“Hey – ready for the flight?”
“Hardly,” I said as I hugged Heidi, Cindy and Natalie. Nats was Nats, in a long skirt and vest top, and barefoot, while the other two wore shorts and t-shirts.
“Right,” Amy said, “I’ll talk to you when you land. Have a great week.”
“Thanks for coming,” Brian said as he hugged each of us, “and safe journey home.”
So we waved, and then walked through security. I guess I was looking forward to a quiet last week or so before school starts.
Not a chance...