“You have got to be kidding me!!”
“No joke – I heard her confirming the arrangements on the telephone yesterday. She’s booked the whole scene – grotto and all. Turns out she saw it at a party she attended last year, and liked it so much she wanted to try it here.”
Jan stood there, shaking her head in a mixture of embarrassment and laughter. As the second in charge at Pippa’s People, she was used to the eccentricities of her boss, but this one was a new high.
“I don’t believe it,” she shrieked out, only for a voice to reply “You won’t believe what?”
Pippa Gardiner was in her late fifties, but still carried herself as the fashion model she had been in her younger days. Regular exercise and a good diet meant that, unlike many women of her age, she could carry off the combination of tight jeans and knee length leather boots without looking as if her thighs were overflowing from the cuffs. She looked at Jan and the other secretary with a smile on her face.
“You’ve really booked a complete Santa’s Grotto for the party tonight?” Jan said as she tried to stifle a laugh.
“I have indeed – how else can we give out the presents? Besides, I have something else special arranged for tonight as well.”
“You’ll see – they should be arriving at about four,” Pippa said as she turned and walked back into the office.
Pippa’s People was one of the top media agencies in the area, and a number of well known and less well known celebrities were on their books. Each year Pippa held a Christmas Party for her clients and staff, which was a relaxed and friendly affair. The only two conditions on attendance were that you wore smart dress, and you bring a “Secret Santa” present for someone. Normally Pippa gave these out herself, but as Jan opened the rear entrance and saw the van parked outside she knew this year would be different.
“You’re late,” she said as a tall man walked up to the door.
“Apologies – traffic was terrible. Where can we set up?”
Jan turned and took the man, along with his two assistants, into a small office that had been cleared for the occasion. He looked around, noting the small walk-in storage cupboard, and nodded.
“This will do fine – can you give us a couple of hours?”
“So long as you’re ready by 9,” Jan said looking at her watch, “then that will be fine. I’ll leave you to get the equipment in.”
“All right, guys,” he said as Jan walked off, “Let’s get everything set up for tonight.”
The clock struck seven as Jan walked into the main meeting room, where drinks and nibbles had been laid out. She had changed from her work outfit into a stunning strapless dress of green silk, with a long wrap around her shoulders, and satin slippers. The only other person in the room was Pippa, who was wearing a gold lame knee length dress with short matching boots.
“Everything looks ready,” Pippa said as she picked up a vol au vent, “Where’s the rest of the staff?”
“On their way,” Jan replied, “they’re just getting changed. When are the first guests due?”
“Right now,” Pippa said as the door opened and Emma Jansen walked in. One of the faces you recognised from magazine articles about “how to look perfect for under fifty quid,” she was a long time client of Pippa, and looked resplendent in a white cocktail dress with gloves and high heels.
“Emma, darling, thank you for coming,” Pippa said as the two kissed. Emma deposited a small, gaudily wrapped box in a trolley by the door and walked off with Pippa as more of the staff came in.
In the small ante room, the walls had been covered in tinsel, and the area transformed into a grotto, complete with throne for a Santa to sit on and a chair for others to relax in. The tall man was changing into a Santa outfit, as the other two checked their supplies for the evening.
The room had filled with staff and clients as the clock neared eight thirty. In one corner, Pippa was talking with Emma and Raven Darkhold, a local news reader who had come in a black leather jacket and skirt, with knee length boots. Elsewhere in the room, three of the office assistants were drinking wine and admiring each other’s outfits, while others were nibbling on food and taking generally. Jan silently slipped out of the room, taking the now fully laden trolley with her, and pushed it down to the grotto. Knocking on the door, she was astounded as the door was opened by one of the other two men, dressed as an elf but with nothing over his muscled and oiled chest.
“Well, this is going to be fun,” she said as she pushed in the trolley, noting the third man was dressed in similar attire. The tall one she had spoken to earlier was adjusting the white beard over his lower jaw.
“Are those the presents?” He asked, and Jan nodded as she handed him a bag with slips of paper in it.
“These are the names,” she said, “pick them out at random and they’ll come down. When they’ve finished here, they have to go to the rear door where limousines are waiting to take them on to a nightclub.”
“Very well then,” he said as Jan turned and walked back out, her dress swaying as she walked. The three men watched her leave, and then Santa turned to his two helpers.
“One of you go and take care of the other limos – the other, pick a name and let’s start this party off.”
The meeting room was stunned into silence as the doors swung open and a bare-chested elf, complete with pointy ears, came in.
“Santa has a present for all of you, if you’ve been good girls,” he shouted to squeaks of approval from the assembled ladies. “As your name is called, bring your things and come with me – we have a surprise for every one of you.”
The group listened attentively as the elf called out “Raven Darkhold – you’re the first to see Santa!”
Raven placed her glass on the table beside her, and walked off behind the elf, her hips swaying and the leather of her skirt creaking as she walked. The girls listened to the sound of her boots as she walked down the corridor, while the door to the room closed behind them.
“Ho, ho, ho – welcome Raven, welcome. Come in and have a seat.”
Raven looked around at the gaudily decorated room, before sitting in the chair opposite Santa. “I hope you’ve been a good little girl,” Santa said as she crossed her legs. He noticed as she did so that she had decided to “go commando” for the evening.
“I think I have,” she said as she looked at the man in the red suit. “So, Pippa says you have a surprise for us after this meeting.”
“Oh yes, we have Raven, and I think you’ll find it a unique experience.”
“What does that mmmsmm” Raven was surprised as the sweet smelling cloth was pressed over her nose and mouth, and although she tried to pull the hand away by grabbing onto the man’s arm with her hands, she soon slipped into unconsciousness. The elf took the chloroform soaked cloth away from her mouth and placed it to one side.
“Vain little woman,” Santa said as he watched the elf cross her limp arms behind her back, and use a zip tie to secure her wrists together. He came round, knelt in front of her and used a second tie around her ankles. Tearing strips off a roll of duct tape, he quickly gagged her and used a long piece to blindfold her.
“Take this one to the limousine,” he said, and the elf picked Raven up effortlessly and carried her out of the room. “Right, the next one please,” he said to the other elf, who drew a name out of the pouch and looked at it before walking off.
A young girl, dressed in a white floor length robe with a white scarf around her head, stood up and walked out with the elf. She timidly followed the man into the grotto.
“Fatima? I am surprised to see you – I did not think a young Muslim girl like you would believe in Santa Claus?”
“It is not important what I believe or do not believe,” she replied with her hands clasped on her lap, “I work for Pippa, and I am happy to come if she asks me.”
“Quite so, Fatima, quite so. So, you don’t mind if you have a little nap now?”
“What do you mmpph!!!” Fatima also opened her eyes wide as the wet cloth was placed over her mouth, but she too was soon in a deep sleep.
“She stays – put her in the ante room,” Santa said as the elf bound her wrists behind her back, and her ankles with the zip ties. Tape was placed over her mouth and eyes, and then she was carried towards the ante room, where she was gently sat down on the floor.
Chloe Cant was next – another of the office juniors, she was wearing a dark crimson sleeveless cocktail dress with matching suede boots. Walking into the grotto, she took a seat and looked at the white bearded man in front of her.
“Chloe – how are you enjoying the party tonight, Chloe?”
“It’s fun – Pippa knows how to organise a surprise.”
“Indeed she does. Tell me, Chloe, are you happy in your work here?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“If an opportunity for travel came along, would you take it?”
“You bet – why, has someone bought me a plane ticket?”
“Not quite,” Santa said as the elf held the chloroform cloth over Chloe’s nose and mouth. As she fell asleep, Santa nodded and instead of zip ties, the elf took a long length of white rope and wrapped it around Chloe’s arms and chest, above and below her breast, before using the ends to bind her wrists together in her lap. Kneeling in front of her, he crossed and tied her booted ankles with more rope, then tied a further length across her skirt to hold her legs together. Finally, a clean white scarf was gently eased into her mouth and tied behind the back of her neck.
“Take this one out to the van,” Santa said as the elf picked her up in his arms and carried her out of the door.
One by one the women were called in, and one by one the chloroform was used on each of them. For one or two, including Emma Jansen, they were bound and gagged and carried out to a waiting limousine, which then drove off with the precious cargo inside. One or two of the older women, mainly the typists, were deposited with Fatima in the ante room. For the majority, however, they were bound with ropes, gagged with scarves and carried out to the white van outside, where they were strapped to the sides of the van as they sat on the carpeted interior.
Eventually, only Pippa and Jan were left. “Why don’t you two come together,” the elf said as he opened the door, “and then you can go on to the party afterwards.”
“All right,” Pippa said as she and Jan walked down the corridor to where Santa was sitting on his throne.
“Pippa,” he said as the two women walked in and the door closed behind them, “Thank you for having us at your party this evening.”
“Thank you for coming,” Jan said. “Did the other girls get off all right?”
“Oh yes, they’re all on their way to their final destination. There just remains the fact that you two need to get your present for this year.”
“I wonder what I’ve got.” Jan said as she looked at Pippa, but her smile faded when she saw the two elves standing there with guns pointing at them.
“What is going on,” Pippa shouted as the Santa removed his jacket and padding.
“I’m afraid we deceived you slightly, Pippa – we’re not the group you booked. They have been – indisposed this evening. I need you to do exactly as I tell you now, so that no-one else, such as Jan here, gets hurt.”
“What is the meaning of this,” Pippa repeated as one of the elves pulled her hands behind her back and began to tie them together with a length of rope.
“We’ve taken your guests for a ride – most of them anyway. Some will have messages sent on their behalf, others will start new lives. You won’t be able to trace us, but we need you to deliver some message on our behalf, so you get to stay awake and here. Please, do as we tell you.”
Jan winced as her wrists were also pulled together and tied behind her back, then the two women were forced to stand face to face as rope was used to tie their upper bodies together. The two elves helped them first to lean on the floor, then to lie on their sides as their ankles were lashed together, and then to their wrist sin a loose hogtie.
“We hate to leave you like this, ladies, but we need to be on our way. Please make sure the letters here are delivered,” Santa said as he left a handful of envelopes on the table, “and hopefully we won’t see each other again. Gag them.”
“You won’t…..” Jan shouted as a knotted scarf was tied into her mouth, followed by Pippa getting the same treatment. The three men left the two women struggling on the floor, desperately trying to figure out a way to get themselves free.
Raven slowly opened her eyes. She remembered sitting in that chair, then something was put over her mouth and she fell asleep. What the hell was it, and why did she feel as if her mouth was full of cotton wool?
She tried to bring her hand up to her head, in an attempt to rub her forehead, but something was holding it above her head. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw five other women lying on beds in the same room as her, all sleeping. Even though the light was dim, she could tell that all had their wrists fixed above their heads somehow, and glancing to her left she saw rope going from around her wrists to the bedstead.
With a start, she realised why her mouth felt as if it was full of cotton wool – it was, and something was pulling at her skin as well over her mouth. Looking down her body, she saw that her ankles were tied with rope as well, and she realised with a sickening fall in her stomach that she was bound and gagged.
She now recognised Emma on the bed next to her, who was also starting to come to. As she pulled at the ropes, the door to the room opened and a tall, dark haired woman walked in. She was dressed in a Dior trouser suit, and wore dark glasses over her eyes even in the dimness of the room.
“I see you’ve started to wake up, Raven and Emma,” she said as Emma slowly turned her head towards Raven. “Please, consider yourself my guests under your ransom is paid. My name is Madame X.”
“Cn u gt fr?”
“N – th rps r to tght!”
Jan and Pippa looked at each other as they heard the clock outside striking twelve. They had been trying for the last two hours to get free, but with no success.
Suddenly, the door to the ante room opened and Fatima hopped into the room. Through the opening, Pippa could see three others of her staff all bound, gagged and blindfolded. Fatima, on the other hand, had managed to remove the tape from over her eyes and was slowly hopping over to where a telephone sat on the table. The two women on the floor called out encouraging grunts as she managed to dislodge the telephone and dial 911.
“That the delivery for tonight, Dave?”
It was a discrete mansion house, situated behind high walls, which the white van drew up to the rear of. Santa and his two elves got out of the front, having changed into outfits of black, while the door was held open for them.
Opening the side of the door, the tall black gentleman looked in at the twenty women, dressed in party finery, bound and gagged, who were slowly starting to come to from the chloroform.
“Excellent,” George said to himself, “this fake Santa idea has proven to be most useful. Get them in and process them – we open for business in twelve hours.”
The white suited operatives of Objects of Beauty started to release and carry the bound women to where their new lives would be determined. Kicking and screaming, they were carried past George, who just smiled and nodded his head.
“Always the same,” he said as he went back into the building, “Always the same.”