"How's the first day of your internship going Sara?" Rosie asked me as we both went to grab a drink from the coffee machine.
I shrugged in reply. "Seems like a pretty normal office really," I said.
Waiting for the watery coffee to fill up her plastic cup Rosie gave me a dazzling smile perfected from her years of temping. "Yeah it's pretty boring here to tell the truth," she explained in her spritely Londoner accent. "I've only been here two months and it's already driving me mad. Must be even worse for you, I mean, considering what you get up to in your spare time."
"Well it's nice to be doing regular things for a change," I lied.
I liked Rosie. She had been the one who had offered me the internship here in the first place. She wasn't much older than thirty, and was a very glamorous woman with a sparkling white smile and sandy blond hair that fell over her shoulders in curls. She was funny, intelligent and sharp, a lot sharper than many temps anyway. She was also known for her eclectic collection of shoes, and today she wore a pair of bright red sling back heels, contrasting with her otherwise very conservative black business dress.
She was about the only tolerable person in this office, which happened to be one of the biggest businesses in Carrington. Westsons Haulage Co. specialised in transporting material goods not just in the local area, but around the country and abroad. It was multi million pound stuff. Mr Westson was one of the richest men in town. It didn't make any of the work I was doing particularly exciting though.
So why have I given up the glamorous life of the girl detective, I hear you cry? Well I hadn't. My internship here had been Felicity's idea. Rumours had emerged about irregularities in the companies accounts, with huge amounts of money spent on goods that didn't actually exist. When three accountants tried to point this out to Mr Westson, he fired them on the spot. Moreover, about a month ago there had been a break in at the office, but nothing was stolen and no major damage was caused.
So of course, snoop bells ringing, Felicity and I hatched a plan. Each year Westsons offered two lucrative internships to local teenagers aged seventeen and above, as a sort of good will gesture to the community. We decided that I should go for one, and not only investigate the strange goings on within the company, but pick up valuable experience in going under cover. Truth be told, neither of us expected me to get offered the job, but get it I did. I would now spend every Thursday afternoon (when I wasn't at college) for two months doing menial tasks like filing and data input.
At least, that was what was supposed to happen.
Considering I didn't exactly have a wardrobe suitable for the workplace, Felicity had let me borrow one of her work outfits. It was a smart, black suit consisting of a knee length skirt and matching jacket over a plain white blouse. The outfit was completed by a pair of black high heeled pumps and opaque, black stockings. My brown hair had been straightened so it fell down the sides of my face tidily. I was quite pleased with how well I had smartened up. Felicity, Rachel and Abigail had all agreed I looked very professional, though Harriet had found the idea of me working in an office to be hilarious. She was convinced I wouldn't last the week, because she knew I'd get bored and want to move on to something else.
And she was right. I was bored. But there was detective work to be done and I had to stick with it.
"I finished inputting that client information into the database," I told Rosie, glancing briefly at the dull grey cubicle which contained a computer that I had spent two and a half hours crunching numbers into. "Anything else you need me to do before I go home?"
"Well there's just one thing. There's a pile of files on my desk which needs to be stored in the archives, if you don't mind doing that before you leave. Tell you what; I'll get the other intern to help you out."
I agreed, thinking what a perfect opportunity it would be to search the archives for some evidence. I followed her to her cubicle, where the other intern was currently knelt on the floor sorting through some paperwork. "Don't worry, I'll finish that off for you," Rosie told her brightly. "Could you just go and give Sara a hand filing some stuff into the archives. Have you both met before?"
The other intern got to her feet and turned to face us. She was a girl my age with a freckly face and blonde hair she had pulled into a tight ponytail. She wore a black trouser suit, with a white camisole top underneath her jacket and leather high heeled ankle boots worn under the cuffs of her trousers.
I stared at her with my stomach feeling like it had sunk through the earth and ended up at Australia. She stared back at me and wrinkled her nose in displeasure.
"Yeah...we've met," I grunted, as I continued to glare at Vicky Masterson.
"You just couldn't resist could you Philips?" Vicky snapped as we stepped into the archives located in the basement. "This was my case, but you have to swan in and ruin everything."
"I didn't see 'copyright of Vicky Masterson' plastered over this building," I grumbled as I flicked the light switch, illuminating the windowless room filled with numerous shelving stacks arranged into rows. The metal shelves were filled with paper files, haulage records and some strange antique statues and other objects. Many of these statues were African in origin, and their carved faces seemed to leer at us as we walked inside, clutching our heavy piles of paperwork.
"Having you here jeopardises everything I've been working towards," Vicky said with her back turned to me, as she sorted away a bound file of documents on the relevant shelf. "Having both of us here looks far too suspicious. Someone will realise what we're up to."
"Are you going to help me look for evidence or not?" I growled as I dumped a bundle of letters into a clear space.
"I can handle myself thank you very much!"
The attitude of my girl detective rival had got worse recently. Every time we bumped into each other she blanked me, as though I was something unpleasant that needed to be stepped around. Today her constant bickering seemed to be particularly venomous. I had previously assumed she was jealous of how my detective career had recently taken off. Now though I was beginning to suspect that I'd cheesed her off some other way, to put it mildly for innocent ears.
And she wasn't finished yet. "Why haven't you got the message yet Philips? You aren't a gifted detective. You should leave work like this to those of us who can handle it."
"In case it's passed you by, I have put several high profile criminals behind bars recently," I retorted.
Vicky gave a loud scoff. "Yeah, by blundering in, getting kidnapped and then waiting to be rescued. Hardly a professional attitude is it?"
I gritted my teeth as I filed some more work again, though not really concentrating on it or my secret objective anymore. Accidentally knocking one of the antique statues so it wobbled on its end, I thought, 'If she doesn't shut up I'm going to ram this statue down her throat.'
Of course, she probably wouldn't have continued the argument had I not continued to rise to the bait. If there's one thing I have to have, it's the last word in an argument. Trouble is, Vicky is the same way.
"Shocking as this may sound, but I don't actively go about looking to be kidnapped," I informed her curtly. "Besides, it's not like you've never been caught and tied up before."
"Occasional occupational hazard, but I don't have it happen to me like every single case. You know people at college are talking about what you get up to?"
"I don't really give a damn what people at college say about me."
"And what about my ex? You know, the boy I was reliably informed you've been seeing quite a bit recently?"
Game, set and match Vicky Masterson. I froze mid way through placing another file on the shelf, and glanced over my shoulder at her. She was stood facing me with her arms folded, an insufferable smile etched onto her face. "What?" I asked dangerously.
"Matthew and I used to go out," Vicky told me smugly. "Didn't you know miss great detective?"
'That's it; I'm going to kill her!' I thought as my fists clenched at my side. In hindsight it's probably a good thing I knocked that statue with my arm again as I pulled away from the shelves. A murder charge isn't the best thing to have on a detectives CV. Yet as the statue toppled over and fell to the floor, neither of us had any idea of the trouble it was about to cause us.
It hit the ground with a loud crack, and split cleanly in two. We both gawped as from the hollow interior countless tiny stones spilled out and scattered around our feet. They twinkled beautifully in the low light, as Vicky crouched down, picked one up and examined it. "Diamonds!" she breathed, saying what we both already knew.
Suddenly everything clicked into place. The irregularities in Westson's accounts, why he ran such a powerful haulage empire, his obsession with wooden statues from Africa. It was because he operated one of the biggest diamond smuggling rings in the country. Later I learnt it was worse than that. He traded in blood diamonds, jewels from war torn countries in Africa that were used to fund acts of horrific brutality. They were banned from sale by international law, but that didn't stop criminals and war lords making obscene amounts of money out of them on the black market.
It also meant Vicky and I were in trouble, as people involved in this trade went to extreme lengths to cover their tracks.
"We have to get help!" I told her. "We can't deal with this on our own."
Vicky nodded, before pocketing the diamond she was holding into her jacket pocket. "For evidence!" she defended, seeing my suspicious look.
"Whatever, let's get out of here!"
It was as we turned around that we came face to face with Rosie, who was stood behind us and had been for God knows how long. Initially startled, I sighed in relief when I realised it was someone I thought would help.
"Listen Rosie, we have to call the police. Weston's been smuggling diamonds into the country in these statues," I explained breathlessly.
"Yes, I can see that Sara," Rose replied cheerily, glancing over my shoulder at the jewel covered floor.
Vicky and I froze, noticing something different about her immediately. "What happened to your accent?" Vicky asked.
"There are more important things you should worry about right now sweetpea," Rosie informed us, her energetic London accent having transformed into that of a drawling and eloquent aristocrat.
I suddenly felt very nervous. I didn't like the look of the malicious smile she was giving us. Neither did I like the look of the silenced pistol she had trained on our position. And I especially didn't like the look of the lengths of electrical cord she had coiled around her left hand.
"There we are. Snug as a bug in a rug," said Rosie, tightening the electrical cord that she had used to fix my waist to the back of the rotating desk chair. She swivelled my seat around so we ended up face to face, a smug grin on her face as she surveyed her handiwork. "Comfortable Sara?" she taunted.
I would have liked nothing more than to reply with something that accurately conveyed how annoyed I was. Unfortunately, the cleaning cloth she had stuffed into my mouth, held inside by layer after layer of bright blue electrical tape that covered every part of my face underneath my nose, meant all I could say was a garbled, "Vvvvvveee hhhhhddd wwwwrrrsssss!"
My bravado disguised how uncomfortable I actually was. Being tied up is hardly a cosy situation, but her choice of bindings really took the biscuit. The red electrical cord used to fix my hands behind me, over the chair back, were really tight. Despite how she'd fixed them over my jacket sleeves, it didn't stop them gnawing at my already aching wrists. It was a similar story around my waist and lap, where even the slightest attempt to break free from the cord fixing me into the seat constricted my body around my diaphragm and rubbed into the tops of my legs. But my ankle bonds were really driving me nuts. With only my stockings for protection, only the slightest tug on the cords coiled above my feet resulted in them painfully chafing my skin. To make things worse, she'd fixed them to the cords encasing my lap, pulling my feet underneath the seat to the extent that I could only just brush the floor with the tips of my shoes.
Rosie was watching in delight as I squirmed about, when we both heard a vicious, yet muffled cry of, "Llllltttt mmmmmm ggggmmm, yyyymmm ccccccwwww!"
Laughing Rosie turned her attention to Vicky. "Sorry, I didn't mean to ignore you. I hope you're nice and snug too."
I looked over my shoulder at the wildly struggling Vicky. She was already tied up in the exact same manner as me, electrical cord around her wrists and ankles, with more used to fix her waist, legs and feet into the swivel chair. Her blonde ponytail swished from side to side as she angrily strained for freedom, and her leather ankles boots emitted loud squeaks as she rubbed them together, trying to kick her feet free. I was at least slightly thankful to Rosie for managing to shut her up, stuffing her mouth and covering her lower face with just as much blue electrical tape as was used on me.
Rosie grabbed my nylon clad knees, exposed as a result of how the cords over my legs had hiked up my skirt, and gave them a push. I gave a series of undignified squeaks as she rotated me on the chair like I was a child's spinning top. "Mmmm you are a pretty girl Sara," she remarked as she examined me, while my revolving seat gradually came to a halt. "If I were ten years younger you'd be just my type."
I watched as she winked at me with one of her hazel eyes. Surely she didn't mean what I thought she meant?
She laughed at the bemused expression I formed using only my eyes and forehead. "Oh but I'm sure you're firmly on the conventional side of the fence. I expect you get all sorts of handsome young men trailing after you with their tongues hanging out."
'As if it were that simple,' I thought, shooting an angry glare at my detective rival turned love rival turned fellow captive.
"And what's the deal between you two anyway?" Rosie asked, now giving Vicky her turn as a spinning wheel. Talking over Vicky's muffled snarls she added, "I heard you bickering from the outside corridor. I think you both need to spend more quality time with each other, in my humble opinion."
She stopped Vicky's chair from spinning, and moved into a position where we could both see her. "I think the least I can do is give you an explanation for why I'm doing this to you. See, the name Rosie Lyons is just an alias I use occasionally. I use it to disguise my true identity as the Scarlet Rose."
It was a name Vicky and I both recognised, and we glanced at each other with our eyes wide. The Scarlet Rose was a world famous jewel thief, who travelled the globe stealing all of the most expensive and valuable gems she could get her hands on. She was a mistress of disguise and an expert in deception. Above all else she was an accomplished seductress, her appetite for men almost as hungry as her taste for women.
"Oh you have heard of me then?" she drawled. "I really must thank you both. Without your help it would have taken me a lot longer to uncover these little beauties."
I glanced at the glittering stones that still lay scattered on the floor. 'Of course,' I suddenly realised, 'She's after the diamonds!'
From a nearby utility cupboard the Scarlet Rose grabbed a dustpan and brush. She then knelt on the floor and began sweeping up the tiny gems. She hummed happily as she worked, as if she was cleaning her kitchen on a Sunday afternoon.
"I'm surprised you didn't wonder why both of you got the internship?" she remarked over the sound of the brush sweeping the floor. "It was all down to me. I ensured the applications of the strongest candidates never made it to Westson, and I personally improved both of your CV's to make you the stand outs of those that remained."
"I wanted you to get the jobs because you're a pair of nosy snoops with a habit of trouble making. When I raided this office a month ago and found nothing, I needed someone to stir things up a bit so the diamonds rose to the surface. With your reputations, you were just what I needed. But I must say, I never expected you to uncover the diamonds this quickly."
She brushed up every last diamond until they formed a tidy pile in the dustpan. All Vicky and I could do was squirm about in our seats and watch, unable to do a thing to stop her.
Then, glancing up a us with a mischievous glint in her eye, she subjected us to the worst insult imaginable. "I don't know why you seem to hate each other. You're both very alike in many ways."
"Wwwwww rrrrrr nnnntttt aallllllkkkk!" Vicky and I chorused at the same time through the cloth and tape, shuffling away from each other as much as our bonds allowed.
Laughing to herself, the Scarlet Rose pulled out a velvet black bag from the rucksack containing her equipment, and poured every last diamond in, filling it right to the top. Tightening it, she then held the bag to her ear and gave it a shake, listening to the diamonds jangling about inside. "Isn't that just the most beautiful sound in the world?" she purred, before dropping the velvet bag into her backpack and zipping it up.
"Now, what am I going to do with you two," she pondered. She crossed her arms and tilted head to one side, her eyes fixed on our trussed up forms. "I feel bad about just leaving you here. What I've done will be nothing compared to what Westson will do if he finds out you've stumbled across his little scheme."
She thought through her dilemma for a few seconds, before giving a click of her fingers. "I know, if I put your phones over here..." She grabbed both Vicky's phone and my own one, which she had forced us to surrender before she tied us up, and walked down to the end of the shelving unit and placed them upon the shelf. "And then if I take you both down here..." she continued, walking back over to us. She then grabbed the back of our chairs, and began pulling them along behind her. The chairs had wheels affixed, so it didn't take much effort on her part to trundle us towards the back of the archive. We both bucked and thrashed, but there was nothing we could do. Soon she had placed us right up against the back wall of the room, and pressed the brake pedal on the chairs to fix them in place.
"Now I reckon it will take a pair of resourceful girls like you twenty minutes or so to get to your phones and call for help," she explained. "It will then take another twenty minutes for any meaningful help to arrive. Then it will take, in a building as big as this, at least thirty minutes, but more likely an hour, for you two to be found and rescued. And by that time I'll have disappeared without a trace. Consider yourself lucky. Many others come away from an encounter with me far worse. I'll even let you keep hold of that diamond you pocketed Vicky, so you can prove to the authorities that Westson was trading in blood diamonds."
"Ooooo tttthhhttsss ggrrrrttt ttttnnnkkksss!" I grunted sarcastically.
I glared at her defiantly as from a pocket in her office dress the Scarlet Rose pulled out some ruby red lipstick, which she began to apply liberally on her lips. "But before I go, I have one last thing for you," she added once she had finished. Then, without warning, she bent over me, grabbed the back of my head and kissed me.
"MMMMMMGGGG!" I cried as I tried to pull my head away. But her grip around my head and hair was firm, and I was unable to break free as her lips pressed against the tape covering my lower face. My nose was filled with the scent of her expensive perfume as she continued this for several seconds, making sure her lips were pushed into the tape as firmly as possible. Then she broke away, panting exhaustedly but with an incredibly smug grin on her face.
"Wwwwwwnnnn ttthhhh hhhhlll rrrrrr yyyymmm?" Vicky cried, having watched what had happened in complete astonishment.
Re-applying her lipstick the Scarlet Rose said, "Your turn sweetpea." And then she did the same to Vicky. Ponytail tossing about and body straining for freedom, Vicky grunted and growled constantly as her captors lips pressed against her tape gag. I could see her blue eyes looking everywhere but on the woman doing this to her.
As our captor pulled away I saw that she had left a lipstick imprint on the tape covering Vicky's mouth, and I guessed there was a similar mark on my tape gag as well. I realised this was not a simple act of lust, but was in fact her calling card. On each of her victims she left a lipstick imprint somewhere on their body. She did it taunt her victims, to remind them of how she had overpowered and outsmarted them. Vicky and I were not the first to fall victim to the kiss of the Scarlet Rose, and we would be far from the last.
Her work done, the Scarlet Rose pocketed her lipstick and slung her backpack over her shoulder. "As adorable as you both are, I can't stay around to play all day. Not when I have all these lovely new diamonds to add to my collection." With that she turned and began waltzing back down the aisle, her red high heels piercing the silent archive as she went. Both myself and Vicky gave muffled cries after her, but she only turned to face us when she reached the exit. "Ta ta ladies," said the Scarlet Rose, before blowing us a kiss. Then she barged through the door and slammed it shut behind her.
Vicky took this as her cue to begin struggling like hell. She bounced, tugged and strained so hard her seat moved from one side to the other. I stayed a little calmer, working the cord binding my wrists to test their tightness. I only received uncomfortable jabs above my hands for my efforts. I quickly realised the best way for me to get out of this was to use the escape method our own captor had thoughtfully provided.
I began exploring the area around the chair base with my bound feet, searching for the brake pedal that was keeping my seat fixed on the spot. When I couldn't find it, I spun about slowly and methodically, continuing my search until I felt the sole of my shoe brush the top of pedal. Trying to ignore the chafing of my ankle bonds, I pressed the pedal down before I felt it flick up with a satisfying click. A bit of wriggling on my part confirmed that the wheels were now capable of movement again.
Yet bound as my feet were, there was no way I would be able to use my legs to propel me to escape. There was only one thing I could use, and that was momentum. I bucked against my bindings as hard as I could, and it had the effect of making my seat trundle forward a little. I began to repeatedly push myself towards the far end of the room, each tug pushing me a little bit closer.
Vicky saw what I was doing, and obviously not wanting to be outdone, took off her chairs brake pedal and began scooting along behind me. We travelled in convoy down the aisle in between two shelving units, our eyes firmly fixed on our goal.
If this sounds fun, it wasn't. Each tug at my restraints tugged and chafed into my body, and I couldn't stop myself moaning in discomfort through my gag. Moreover, travelling in a straight line in these chairs while tied up isn't exactly what you would call easy. I zigzagged along the aisle like a pinball, and occasionally I careered straight into one of the heavy metal shelves on either side of me. Behind I could hear thumping sounds and muffled cursing as Vicky encountered the same problems.
I groaned in pain as I collided with the shelves, banging my elbow. But I don't give up easily, and I continued to press on. Eventually I arrived at the far end of the shelving unit, where she had placed both our phones. I turned myself about, and looking over my shoulder I reversed back until my bound wrists brushed the shelf top. My numb fingers flailed about as I tried to scoop up my mobile. By the time I pulled away, my hands were clasped firmly around it.
"Ccccllll fffrrr hhhlllllpp!" Vicky insisted as she caught up with me.
"Wwwwwttttt ddddd yyyyy ttttthhhnnkkk mmmmm tttrrrrnngggg ttttt dddddnnn?" I growled at her, peering over my shoulder as I browsed through my contacts list. This isn't exactly an easy thing to do with your hands bound behind you palm to palm. Arriving at Rachel's name and number, I pressed call before activating my phones loudspeaker setting. The room was filled with the sound of the dialling tone, as Vicky and I waited for our call of distress to be answered.
"Hello, is that you Sara? Where the hell are you? You should have been back here hours ago!" the voice of my best mate Rachel scolded me down the phone.
"RRRRCCCCHHHLLLL HHHHHLLLPPP MMMMM!" I bellowed as loudly as I could down the phone.
"WWWWWRRRR TTTTDDD PPPPP TTTTTT WWWSSSSNNNNNSS FFFFCCCCCSSSS!" Vicky shouted, tilting her head forward to get it as close to the phone as possible.
"What was that Sara? I think the reception must be awful where you are."
"MMMMMM TTTTDDD PPPPPP. GGGGTTTT TTHHHH TTHHHRRRSS NNNNDD RRRSSSSCCC SSSSS!" I shouted.
"NNNN TTTTTT BBBBSSSSMMMMNNNTTT. HHHRRRRRRYYY!" Vicky added.
There was an agonising pause on the other end of the line. Eventually we heard Rachel reply, "You've been tied up and gagged haven't you?"
"MMMM HHHHMMM!" I nodded.
"Alright Sara I'll get the others and the police, and we'll come rescue you. I take it you're still at Westsons office?"
"Alright, we'll get there ASAP. Don't go anywhere," Rachel told me before she hung up.
'Don't go anywhere?' I repeated in my head. 'Real smart comment Rach.'
Still, I had done what I needed to. Help was on its way and all I and my fellow captive needed to do was wait for it to arrive. And the assignment hadn't ended up a complete failure. With the single blood diamond in Vicky's possession at least we could nail Westson for his part in the smuggling ring. It was scant consolation at that moment, knowing the cow that had put us in this position had got away with it, and would continue to do so for quite some time.
Still, all I could do at that moment was make myself more comfortable. I kicked off my high heeled pumps and wriggled my stocking clad toes and feet, trying to stave off pins and needles. I squirmed about in my chair trying to find the point where the electrical cord rubbed against my body the least. Satisfied I was about as snug as I was going to get, I hunkered down in my seat and rested my chin on my chest, in preparation for the long hour that lay ahead of me.
Another hour I was forced to spend in the company of dear old Vicky.
"Tttthhhsss ssss llll yyyyrrrrr ffffllttt!" she snapped at me, giving me her best angry stare over her tape gag.
"Sssttttt ppppp bbbbttccchh!" I snarled, swivelling in my seat so my back was turned on her.