You are cordially invited to attend the annual Kingshead College Summer Ball, to be held on the evening of 20th June.
Tara looked up at Luci as she placed the embossed card on the table of their flat. “The annual ball – I don’t think we’ve been since we left the college, have we?”
Lucinda Ponsonby-Benson was sat opposite Tara, deep in thought. “I’m sorry – I was miles away for a moment. What did you say?”
Tara smiled at her friend. “The Kingshead Summer Ball – we haven’t been since we left, have we?”
“No – no we haven’t. I want to go this year, though – Jed is going to be there.”
“Oh, Jed will be there, will he?”
Jed was Lieutenant Jedadiah Hornby, a young officer in the Household Cavalry that Tara and Lucinda had met some weeks ago. The dark haired Luci had quickly became friends with the young man, and Tara was astute enough to see those feelings had grown rather stronger. She shook her head and smiled across the table.
“Oh, shut up – I just want to spend time with him, is that so wrong?”
“No, of course not. So, what are we going to wear?”
“I have absolutely no idea – let’s go shopping tonight and see what we can find.”
Kingshead College was situated in the Surrey countryside, near the town of Guildford, and on the grounds of one of the large manor houses that populated the area. As the limousine that Lucinda’s father had hired for the night through the wrought iron gates, Tara could see a large marquee set up in the front grounds, and a number of people milling around outside the main entrance.
“Nice to see the event is as popular as ever,” she said as the car came to a stop in front of a red carpet. A young man in a dinner jacket came forward and held the door open as Lucinda stepped out first. Although it was the middle of summer, it was a little colder than usual, so she tugged at the sleeves of her shrug as she waited for Tara to join her.
“Luci!” a male voice called out, and as she turned round she could see Jed walking towards her in his formal dress uniform, the sword hanging at his side. “You look fantastic!”
“What, this old thing?” Luci said with a smile. She had spent the afternoon at her hairdressers, having her dark hair cut into a bob that framed her face, and the ‘old thing’ was a red velvet strapless ballgown, the dress flowing from the nipped waist to the ground. She had a red velvet shrug over her upper arms and shoulders, while on her feet were patent leather heels bought that day from her favourite Jimmy Choo stockist.
“My dear Lucinda, I never joke about these things,” Jed said with a tone of hurt, but the smile on his face told both the girls that he was only joking. “Tara, a pleasure to see you as always.”
“Likewise,” the blonde haired girl replied as Jed took her gloved hand and kissed it. She had chosen a dark blue silk ballgown with capped sleeves, and was wearing a vintage cream silk wrap over her shoulders as well as matching opera gloves that came over her elbows. A pair of white satin slippers completed the outfit, while her long blonde hair was raised onto her head and held in place by a diamond diadem. “We’ll let you know when we are ready to leave,” Lucinda called to the driver who nodded as the door was closed. As the car swept down the driveway, Tara looked round the assembled guests.
“Come, ladies,” Jed said as he took Lucinda by the arm, “Let us enter the hall and enjoy this occasion.” As the trio passed through the doorway into the grand lobby of the college, they noticed a number of dark suited gentlemen, quiet and discreet yet obviously focused on one young lady standing talking to a small group. She was wearing a short brown crinoline dress and knee length fabric boots, and seemed to be in an animated discussion.
“Isn’t that Anna Pappandolis?” Tara said as she looked over. “I thought she was meant to be under heavy guard – some sort of threat against her father?” Anna had been at college with both Tara and Lucinda, but on graduation had returned to the African country she was raised in to help her father manage their farm. There had been rumours of unrest, and her father had been an outspoken critic of the lack of support the government was giving to the farmers.
“Do you know, I think it is,” Luci said as the three of them changed direction and walked over. “Anna” she shouted, but as they drew closer Jed noticed the guards slowly coming towards them. “Excuse me, ladies,” he said as he let go of Luci’s arm and walked towards the men, as Anna turned and greeted her two old friends with a smile and a hug.
“Tara, Lucinda, how lovely to see you,” Anan said as she embraced the girls. Despite her slim build, she was a strong woman, as Tara reminded herself when Anna’s embrace crushed her gown slightly.
“Anna, darling, how lovely to see you. I thought you were busy at your father’s house?”
“Well, I had to come over here to take care of a few things, and for once my trip coincided with the ball, so here I am.”
“Who are the minders,” Luci asked as she glanced at the dark suited men talking to Jed.
“Oh them – Daddy insisted I bring some security guards with me, ‘just in case’ as he put it. Never mind them, though – who’s the dashing white sergeant?”
“He’s a lieutenant, actually, but don’t worry about him – I want to hear all about you!”
She looked up at the small, dark haired woman as the adhesive tape was smoothed over her mouth. She had been overpowered, tightly wrapped in tape and then placed in the linen basket, while the woman had taken her clothes and her identity for some reason. As the lid on the basket was closed, and she was wheeled away by the masked men, she wondered who would go to so much trouble – and why.
The sun was finally starting to set on the far horizon as Jed led Luci onto the dance floor in the marquee for another waltz. Tara and Anna watched, Luci a red blur while Jed cut a dashing figure in the dark blue and white.
“So, just how dangerous is it at the moment,” Tara said as she turned to her old friend.
“Daddy won’t say so, but he’s really worried,” Anna said with a frown as she drained her glass. “It took all my persuasive powers for him even to allow me to come n this trip, and even then the Goon Squad had to come with me.”
She glanced over her shoulder at the four men. As she did so, one of them held his hand to his ear before nodding to the other three, who quietly slipped out.
“Finally,” Anna said as she stood up. “Call me old fashioned, but the thought of a trip to the boudoir with them in tow was not appealing. Forgive me, Tara.”
“No, I’m coming too,” Tara replied as she stood up. “Champagne has that effect.” The two girls made their way back into the main house, and slowly walked to the ladies room.
As Tara opened the door, they were greeted by a small, dark haired woman who smiled and directed them to the booths. As they entered, they did not hear her lock the door and pocket the key as the water started to run.
“That’s better,” Anna said as she stepped out of the booth, only to stop short and gasp at the sight of the pistol pointing at her.
“Anna?” Tara said as she stepped out, only to be grabbed by the two masked men who were waiting outside the booth door.
“Secure her,” the woman said as she walked forward and grabbed Anna by the arm, “while I take care of the target.”
Tara looked at her friend as she was dragged into a booth, calling out “Just do as they say,” before a long length of black cloth was pulled into her open mouth and wrapped round several times, pulling the cloth further into her mouth each time. As this was been done, Tara could feel her wrists been tied together behind her back, the rough rope scratching her even with her gloves on, and then her elbows been drawn together by another length of hemp.
“Now where do you think they have gone?”
Lucinda stood in front of the table, as Jed looked round the room, but there was no sign of either Tara or Anna. More worryingly, there was no sign of the security guards either.
“They probably just went to the rest room,” Jed said. “They’ll be back in a minute.”
“I need to go anyway,” Lucinda said as she walked to the entrance to the house. “Let me come too, just in case – I’ve heard what happened to you two in the past,” Jed said as she walked behind her.
“Oh come on, Jed – what could possibly happen at a place like this,” Lucinda laughed as she walked to the door, but her laughter stopped when she tried the door and found it locked. “Hello,” she called out as she knocked on the door, but there was no response – at least until she put her ear to the door and heard the noises inside.
“Jed, something’s wrong,” Lucinda said as she stepped back. As Jed looked at her and saw the concern in her face, he took several steps back and ran at the door. The wood gave slightly at the hinges, so he repeated the process as the door opened inwards. Regretfully, his momentum took him in after the door, only for his unconscious body to hit the floor as the heavy wooden staff came down on the back of his head.
“Grab her,” Lucinda heard a female voice say, and as she stared in a daze at her fallen beau a masked man rushed out, pushing her into the room and closing the door behind himself. It took the shocked woman a few minutes to take in the scene that greeted her in the ladies room.
There were two masked men and one woman in an attendant’s outfit, as well as Anna and Tara. Anna was stood next to the woman, her eyes wide as she stared at Lucinda over the brown scarf that filled her mouth. Rope were around her chest, holding her arms to her sides and encircling her breasts, as well as pinning her wrists together behind her back, and her ankles and legs were tied together in a way that allowed her to walk with small steps. Most distressing for her was the rope that was tied around her waist and passed between her legs, gathering the skirt of her dress up as she stood there.
Tara was kneeling on the marble floor, looking over her shoulder at Lucinda with eyes that said “Not again” to her friend. Her arms were pinned together behind her back, with rough ropes around her wrists and elbows and only the opera gloves offering protection, while a second masked man was pulling her arms to her sides with ropes that encircled her upper and lower chest. She would have spoken, were it not for the black silk band that filled her mouth.
“We haven’t time for more witnesses,” the woman said as she kicked Jed to ensure he was indeed unconscious. “Get these two secured while I take our target out to the van, and make sure they cannot raise the alarm.” As she pulled Anna out of the room by the arm, Tara was made to sit down on the floor and watch as her ankles were bound together.
“Stand still,” Lucinda heard a rough male voice say as her own arms were pulled behind her back. As she only had the short jacket over her shoulders and upper arms, she winced as the rough cord cut into the skin on her wrists as they were lashed together. “We have got to stop meeting like this,” she said to Tara as her friend’s legs were tied together, the rope cutting into the velvet as it was drawn around her legs. As she felt her elbows roughly pulled together, Lucinda could also feel the side of her short jacket falling down over her arms as they were drawn back.
“Here we go again,” she said with a sigh, which made Tara grunt through her gag as the second man came over with a second coil of rope. Lucinda stood still as he passed the rope round her arms below her chest, saying nothing as the rope passed round her above and below her breasts, pulling the blue silk tightly against them as her arms were drawn into her sides.
“You need to shut up,” she heard the man say as he picked up a long white scarf from the floor. As Tara’s wrap was on the floor beside her, Lucinda wondered where the scarf had come from, but offered no resistance as the cloth was pulled between her lips and teeth and wrapped around several times, filling her mouth before the ends were knotted together behind her head.
The ropes around her chest were giving one final tug, and as she was made to sit down Lucinda glanced over at her friend. Tara had been made to shuffle round, catching the hem of her skirt on her shoes as she did so, but now the other masked man was pulling her legs up towards her chest, the hem of her dress rising so that her slippers and white stockings were clearly visible. The man then took a long coil of rope and passed it around Tara’s legs below her knees, pulling them further up as the rope was crossed underneath, around her thighs, and then crossed once more before it was passed around her back so that she was held in a ball. Tara sat silently, steeling herself for the fact she was going to be very uncomfortable for some considerable time as she watched Lucinda having her ankles bound together.
As Lucinda had her own legs bund over the blue silk of her dress, and then her own legs were pulled up as Tara’s had been, she tested the ropes that were holding her arms behind her back. With her elbows nearly touching, it was difficult to try and move her fingers around, especially as al the ropes behind her were secured to each other by connecting knots. She looked over at Tara who nodded in mute understanding while she watched Lucinda been placed into a ball by the longer coils.
The woman came back in as the two masked men stood up and checked the handiwork. Jed was still unconscious on the floor as both Tara and Lucinda looked up at the intruders.
“Good work boys – let’s go, we have a timetable to keep to and a flight to catch,” the woman said as the three of them turned and walked out, closing and locking the door behind them. Through the small glass windows that were situated high u on the wall, Lucinda could see the dark blue of the summer sky as the sun finally set.
The two women sat in silence, trying to ignore the pain that was starting to build in their legs as they were held firmly up against their chests. The marble floor was cooling rapidly, the lack of heat easily passing through their knickers to numb their bottoms as they sat still. Eventually Tara tried to speak.
“n de wht tht ws bt?”
Lucinda shook her head. “Th wntd n – mb hr fthr?”
The lights had been turned out when the door was locked, and although several times they could dimly see the door handle turn nobody came in. The only other sound, apart from the occasional owl from outside as the lights dimmed, was the breathing of Jed as he lay there.
“T lst hs brthng,” Tara mumbled through the cloth that filled her mouth, and Lucinda nodded in response. “Cn u mv t l?”
“lts c,” she responded as she tried to flex her legs, but the ropes around them were too well secured behind her back. They had also been passed through those around her chest, making the anchoring even more secure and leading to her calling out in mute frustration.
“Hng n,” Tara said as she tried to shuffle over, only to gasp as she slowly toppled over and fell to one side, her head facing Lucinda as she sat there looking at her. There was silence for a few minutes, before Tara could hear what sounded like a laugh under her friend’s gag.
“ts nt fne,” Tara mumbled, but the glint in Lucinda’s eye told her she was just glad the two of them were still alive.
“Wh... What happened?”
Jed slowly opened his eyes as the first rays of the sun came through the open window. He slowly sat himself rubbing the back of his head as he did so. As he brought his hand round, he saw the congealed blood that had rubbed off onto his skin.
“Oh yeah – the door opened and – what the hell?”
He was looking at Lucinda as she sat against the wall, her head bowed onto her roped chest and her forehead resting on her knees. On her side beside her was Tamara, also sleeping, but both girls breathing nasally as the saliva stained cloths in their mouths prevented them breathing out normally.
“LUCI!!” Jed shouted out as he tried to get to his feet, stopping briefly as a wave of nausea passed over him. As he slowly stood up, Lucinda opened her eyes and saw her beau walking slowly towards her, drawing his ceremonial sword from his scabbard as he did so.
“I’m dreaming,” was her first thought as he stood beside her, but as the sharp metal cut away the ropes holding her legs in place and they fell forward heavily, she realised that this was not a fantasy on her part. “Hang on,” Jed said as he slowly untied the knot holding the ends of the white cloth together, unwinding the material and letting the wet mass fall to the floor beside her. Lucinda slowly worked her jaw before saying “Thanks – that was really starting to hurt.”
“What the hell happened here,” Jed asked as he cut away the ropes around Tara’s chest and legs, helping her to sit up as she slowly came to. “I remember rushing in here, and then something must have hit me on the back of the head. Did you see what it was?”
“No – Tara might off. Take the cloth out of her mouth.”
“Thanks,” Tara said with a cough as her gag was removed and allowed to drop to the floor. “It was an old fashioned Irish staff – you stood no chance, and I could not warn you. Can you break the door down – we have a kidnapping to report.”
“What about you two?”
“We can free ourselves,” Lucinda said, “Go – now.”
The two women watched Jed as he forced the door open and ran out, before looking at each other.
“I think so.”
The two of them slowly slid round until they were back to back, as Lucinda started to work at the knot around Tara’s wrists.