La Cioccolata
Home Sweet Home
by Gillian B
Part 1: Moving Day

As Mrs Harman drove Coco back from a job in which they had collaborated with conspicuous success, Coco found herself troubled and far away from the elation she would have expected to feel.

Coco was silent and lost in thought as Mrs Harman drove the Ford Escort through a maze of side streets. She was a young and relatively inexperienced criminal, which she acknowledged. She had nevertheless considered herself to be competent and efficient, ruthless when necessary but not given to unnecessary or gratuitous violence. However, a relatively short contact with Mrs Harman, with her lifetime of experience, showed her that she was a rank amateur when it came to planning and intelligence and even understanding her victims. Although her skills were apparently impressive even to Mrs Harman they were limited to two small areas of expertise: just breaking-in and disguise. Concentrating on working for her university degree then going straight suddenly seemed like a much more attractive proposition than it had even a few days ago. It was surely better to be successful and dully conventional than it was to be a flamboyant but unsuccessful criminal.

Mrs Harman parked the Ford in a deserted back street and Coco surfaced from her introspection suddenly disorientated as she had not been paying any attention to the journey. Mrs Harman locked the car and led the way to a dingy garage door which she opened. The Jaguar, which was the transport Mrs Harman used in her public persona was parked inside. She started it and drove it out onto the street while Coco closed the garage door and then climbed into the car.

It took only a few minutes to arrive at Mrs Harman's house.

"You'd better come in," Mrs Harman said as she parked on the gravel area outside the front of the house.

Coco nodded distractedly and followed Mrs Harman into the house. She sat on one of the kitchen chairs with her elbows on the table and her chin resting on her hands while Mrs Harman busied herself making coffee.

While the coffee was brewing, Mrs Harman sat down opposite Coco. "Penny for them?" she asked.

"I thought I was good at this stuff," Coco replied disconsolately. "But I'm not. You've got real class and all I've got is tricks with locks and a dressing-up box."

"I told you before, what you've got is real class too," Mrs Harman assured her. "You're the best I've ever seen with locks and your disguises are really good too."

Coco looked at Mrs Harman, remembering the previous conversation.

"I meant what I said when I said we could be a team," Mrs Harman continued. "I need what you've got and you need what I've got and if we stick together, you'll learn and you'll be the best there is."

Coco nodded. It made sense, but she would no longer be her own woman and deep down she was still afraid of Mrs Harman.

"Here's a proposition," Mrs Harman went on. "I'm on my own in the house and I've got a spare room, so I could do with a lodger living here. Perhaps a clean, hard-working student would fit the bill. Besides, now my useless husband has got himself banged up, I really need to have some visible source of income, otherwise people will begin to wonder where my money comes from. What do you think?"

Coco still had some misgivings but wasn't sure how to express them to Mrs Harman. She rapidly concluded that there was no point in not being completely honest. "I think we would be great together," she started tentatively, "and I know I could learn a lot from you." She hesitated awkwardly, not sure how to go on.

"But..." prompted Mrs Harman, sensing Coco's discomfort.

"But," Coco continued more confidently, "I like being my own woman. I've struggled for independence all my life and now I have some, I really want to keep it."

"And my methods of hiring and firing staff seem a little drastic?"

Coco debated how to reply to this. She had twice found herself utterly at Mrs Harman's mercy, bound, gagged and certain that she was about to die. Previous offers from Mrs Harman had been made under what could only be termed duress. They had definitely been offers that she couldn't refuse. "Well, yes," Coco eventually replied weakly, once again unsure of how to express herself. "It does seem a bit drastic." She grinned sheepishly at Mrs Harman.

"I think I understand," Mrs Harman conceded. "How would it be if we made it a loose arrangement? You can live here and I'd enjoy that anyway. I'd offer you work from time to time but it would be up to you whether you took it. You would do your own jobs as long as they don't get me into trouble and I could help you if you wanted. No commitments and you can walk away any time you want. I think we still both benefit that way."

Coco smiled; this sounded like the best of both worlds. "I agree," she said firmly offering a hand.

"That's settled then," Mrs Harman replied, warmly shaking Coco's hand. "When do you want to move in?"

"I could hire a van next week, or it could be today if I could borrow a car," Coco suggested.

"No problem with that and I'll give you a hand to get packed, if you like," Mrs Harman offered.

"Well, that's very kind," Coco replied hesitantly, "but I don't really want to show off all the little places I have things tucked away in my flat."

"I'll respect your secrets," Mrs Harman assured her. "I'm sure we can work something out."

Later that day, a plain white Ford Transit van, which Mrs Harman had summoned at a moment's notice from the apparently inexhaustible resources she seemed to have at her fingertips, was parked with two wheels up on the kerb outside Coco's flat. Between them, Coco and Mrs Harman had boxed up almost all of the clothes, books and kitchen paraphernalia that Coco owned and had already packed them in the van.

Other than a big drawing board on a stand and a tall draughtsman's chair which were also already in the van, all the furniture was rented with the flat. Many pieces of furniture had been pulled away from the walls and Coco was busy with her woodworking tools sealing up secret storage spaces she had built beneath the floorboards, behind skirting boards and even under part of the fireplace.

True to her word, Mrs Harman was respecting Coco's professional secrets and not watching. In fact she had little opportunity to watch as she was blindfolded, tied to a chair and gagged. Coco looked up from her work as she heard the chair give a creak. She quickly glanced over Mrs Harman's bonds but they looked still to be secure. Mrs Harman had herself suggested that she wear a blindfold to ensure that she did not see anything that Coco preferred to be secret. Partly as a joke, Coco had suggested that she should also tie Mrs Harman up to make sure the blindfold stayed in place. Mrs Harman had replied that that was what she would do in Coco's place and calmly submitted to Coco's rope-work.

Coco had decided to make her tying effective, after all, she had her professional pride, but not too extravagant, so as not to waste time on a busy afternoon. Accordingly Mrs Harman's wrists were crossed behind her back and securely bound with rope. Several turns of rope around her waist and more over her lap held her to the slightly rickety wooden chair that was the strongest one Coco's flat boasted. Coco tied Mrs Harman's legs at the ankles and knees, simply lashing them together and not bothering with cinching the bonds; after all this was more a token binding than a serious effort to hold Mrs Harman prisoner for an extended period. On the other hand, Coco felt that tying Mrs Harman's wrists but leaving her arms otherwise free was just a little too token. She compromised by tying Mrs Harman's elbows to the verticals at either side of the chair-back.

Coco went back to her joinery work, but was interrupted after only a few minutes my Mrs Harman mumbling something unintelligible through her gag. Coco sighed and stood up. She loosened the small towel that was wedged between Mrs Harman's teeth and knotted behind her head. "What is it?" she asked rather curtly.

"Is it really necessary to gag me?" Mrs Harman asked plaintively.

"No," Coco conceded, "we agreed on the blindfold, but I was treated to a non-stop commentary on how much better I could have tied you up if I had put in a little more time and effort. The gag was to give me a bit of peace and quiet while I work."

"Well, it's true," Mrs Harman began, clearly about to launch into another detailed appraisal of her predicament.

Coco hurriedly replaced the gag. "If my tying is that bad, why not spend the time seeing if you can get loose?" she suggested.

Fifteen minutes later, Coco packed the last of the hidden items into a large cardboard box she had been progressively filling up and put her tools back into their places in her large and well-organised tool box.

Mrs Harman had still made no material progress towards escaping, so Coco quickly untied her.

"That was actually pretty good, girl," Mrs Harman admitted to Coco. "It was all so quick and messy, I was sure I'd be loose in a few minutes, but I just couldn't get my hands out."

"I would have done a better job if I was going to leave someone alone for a while," Coco explained, "but I didn't want to waste time and I thought that would hold you for long enough and keep you amused."

"I could have broken the chair to get loose," Mrs Harman pointed out defensively.

"You'd still have had your hands tied behind your back," Coco retorted, "and I made sure that bit was done properly."

"I suppose quicker tying-up is something else I can learn from you," Mrs Harman conceded.

They carried the last of Coco's possessions down to the van then Coco locked up and put the keys through the letterbox for her landlord's agent to find and joined Mrs Harman in the front of the van.

Mrs Harman started the van and eased it gently forward trying not to bounce the contents too severely as the wheels came down off the kerb. Coco watched as her flat disappeared behind them, feeling oddly nostalgic. Coco's decision to team up with Mrs Harman was definitely another milestone in her illicit career. She had high hopes that it would be fruitful but realised that within a few years, she might well have outgrown the partnership. She just hoped that Mrs Harman was true to her word and there was a way of leaving her employment that did not involve the one-way trip to the seaside that she had so nearly experienced earlier in one of her earlier encounters.

End of part 1 On to part 2  

The Chronicles of La Cioccolata
KP Presents Contents
© Gillian B 2006