“CHEERS,” the five women said as they looked at the camera. They were enjoying a night out on their boss, after the completion of a tricky business deal that had required the expertise of all five of them to complete it.
On the left was Rhona, the team leader, wearing a short sleeved brown cardigan over a brown vest, dark jeans and burgundy knee length leather boots, with a short heel and a false lace detail up the front. Next to her, with her arm round Rhona, was Elaine the IT consultant, her long dark hair falling down one shoulder as she smiled. She was wearing a grey top with a v-shaped collar, dark leggings and black flat soled boots.
In the middle of the group was Suzanne, their colleague from legal, who had overseen the contract itself. She had not had a chance to remove her blue jacket yet, her handbag diagonally over it as her long blonde hair fell over the shoulders. She was wearing a black jersey underneath, matching her black jeans and grey ankle boots. Next to her was Zoe from procurement, who had overseen the supply of the goods and services to the client with great efficiency and charm. The smallest of the five, she had long dark hair that fell down the back of her padded coat, the large grey scarf still round her neck, covering the denim blouse she was wearing along with her jeans and black suede ankle boots.
Finally, there was Belinda from Rhona’s office, who had acted as the go-between for all parties. She smiled at the camera, her chunky necklace falling down the front of the white cowl necked jersey dress she was wearing. Black leggings, and knee length tan leather boots completed her outfit, as she stood with her hand on her hip.
“Thanks,” the photographer said as he took the picture, and then went off, allowing Zoe and Suzanne to remove their coats before the five of them sat round the table.
“This is some reward,” Belinda said, “a three course dinner in an apartment rented for the night, and then drinks and karaoke afterwards?”
“Well, that’s the plan – the karaoke can always be skipped,” Rhona said with a smile as she opened a bottle of wine and handed it round. “Right now, let’s see what this master chef has cooked up for us, shall we?”
“Well, this menu looks divine,” Suzanne said as she glanced at the card. “Scallops, or pea salad for you Zoe...”
“Damn shellfish allergy,” Zoe whispered as Suzanne continued “Veal cutlets with trimming, and a Crème Brule. Sounds divine.”
“We’ve earned it,” Elaine said, “so let’s kick back and enjoy it,” her smile broadening as the two waiters brought in their starters. Both were tall, dark haired, broad shouldered, impeccably dressed and improbably handsome.
As the five of them pushed away their plates, Suzanne groaned as she heard her phone start ringing in her handbag. Looking at the caller ID, she grimaced and said “Excuse me a moment while I get this girls,” pushing her chair away from the table as she stood up and walked to the window, the magnificent view over the city doing nothing for her as she said “yes?
“You have got to be joking- I was told I would have the night off tonight!
“All right, all right – let me find somewhere private and I’ll call you back.”
“Problem,” Rhona said as Suzanne walked back to the table.
“No – just someone does need some hand holding for another deal. Keep some dessert for me – I should be able to sort this out in the other room.”
Rhona nodded as Suzanne went into a small room off the main area, and took her phone back out.
“I swear, this job sometimmmmmggdddwhtshpnngn.”
Her mumbled screams were cut off by the gloved hand that had been clamped over her mouth, as one of the waiters stood in front of her, his finger to his lips as he pointed a very real looking pistol at the young woman. She felt the hand move from her mouth, but before she had a chance to scream with her opened mouth a knotted silk scarf was pulled into the mouth, her blonde hair trapped as the ends were tightly secured together at the back of her neck.
She was pushed onto the bed, unable to do much except whimper as her arms were folded behind her back, and her wrists tied to her elbows with lengths of thin cord, while the waiter knelt and crossed her ankles, securing them tightly together with more cord. He then bound her legs with another length of cord, before she was sat up, and she felt more rope draped around her upper arms, pulling them tightly into her sides as it was wrapped above and below her chest, and then tightened further as it was fed under her arms and around the back of her neck.
“Get her to the van,” Suzanne heard them say, as she was lifted up and dropped in a laundry basket, the lid slammed shut over her as she was wheeled out...
“My apologies ladies – your colleague has had to return to the office, and sends her apologies.”
“Damn – the life of a paralegal,” Rhona said as she shook her head. “Ah well, I’ll see her in the morning.”
“Dessert,” the waiter said with a smile as the trolley was brought in, the small plates placed in front of them. As Belinda looked round the table, she saw Zoe shiver for a moment, and then put her napkin to her mouth.
“Everything all right, Zoe?”
“I think so – I’ll be back in a minute,” she said as she stood up and headed to the bathroom, Belinda watching closely as she went off.
Closing the door behind herself, Zoe knelt down in front of the toilet, staying in place until she raised her head, looking up as she caught her breath.
“Goddamit – must have been some sort of nut in that sauce,” she said to herself as she stood up, and ran some water, scooping it up in her hands and using it to rinse her mouth out. She looked in the mirror, and wondered if she could call it a night there and then, when she caught a glimpse of the man behind her.
“What the f...” was all she managed to say before a damp cloth was pressed firmly over her nose and mouth, another arm snaking round her waist as she tried to pull the hand away.
The more she struggled, however, the deeper she inhaled the sweet smelling fumes from the cloth, and her eyelids fluttered before they closed, her body relaxing in the arms holding her.
“She the one with the allergy?”
“That’s right,” the waiter said as he lowered her to the ground. Taking a cloth from his pocket, he rolled it into a thin band and pulled it between her lips, the corners of her mouth pulled back as he tied it off at the base of her neck.
The second man took some cord from his pocket and bound her wrists together in front of her, and then her ankles, before he picked her up and put her over his shoulder.
“Get her coat – then tell the others she was taken ill,” he said before he slipped through the hidden door, the waiter nodding as he left by the normal entrance.
“Awww – I’ll call her later,” Rhona said as she heard the news.
“Zoe gone as well?”
“It looks like it,” Rhona said as Belinda picked up her handbag, and opened it, taking out a lipstick and makeup mirror as she pressed the clasp shut.
“Why don’t we have coffee in the seated area,” Elaine said as she stood up, walking to the large bay window as the other two followed. The two waiters nodded as they prepared the coffee cups and carried them over, offering the three women a liqueur as they did so.
“So what great project awaits your attention next, Elaine,” Belinda said as she stirred her coffee, and took a sip.
“There’s a big IT project coming up, replacing our mail network with a form of Outlook,” Elaine said as she sipped on her Cointreau, “which should be fun. If you like that sort of thing.”
“Which I don’t” Rhona said with a laugh. “Now that this particular contract is sorted out, I need a good long holiday.”
“Is the client happy with our work?”
“I believe so – you’ve had the most contact with them Belinda, what do you think?”
“Oh I believe they are very happy,” Belinda said with a smile. “In fact, I know they are keeping a keen eye on this business, with a view to future contracts.”
“Sounds good to me,” Rhona said as she sipped her coffee. “Do any of you fancy going out onto the balcony?”
“You go out,” Elaine said as she stood up, brushing down her trousers, “I’ll join you after I visit the smallest room.”
Rhona nodded as she and Belinda walked out onto the balcony, while Elaine walked towards the toilet. Before she reached the door, however, she was grabbed from behind, a large hand covering her mouth and stifling any screams as she was dragged into the bedroom, the door closing behind her...
“Now where on earth has Elaine gone to,” Belinda said as the two women walked back in from the balcony.
“Good question,” Belinda said quietly. “Rhona, stay here – I’m going to have a look round.”
“No way – I’ve seen too many bad horror movies to fall for that one. I’m coming with you.”
“What makes you think this is a bad horror film? She’s probably just taking a long time in the toilet.”
Rhona laughed as the two of them walked towards the toilet, looking in and seeing nobody there.
“Her coat’s gone,” Belinda said quietly as she looked at the coat rack by the apartment door.
“Now that is damn strange – she would not have left without telling us,” Rhona said to herself.
“Don’t worry – you’ll join her soon enough.”
The two women turned to see the two waiters and chef looking at them, the waiters holding guns while the chef had several lengths of rope in his hands.
“What the hell is going on,” Rhona said as she looked at them.
“Someone’s not happy with the deal you struck,” the chef said, “and he wants to let all five of you know how he feels. You,” he said as he threw a length of rope at Belinda, “tie her hands behind her back – tightly.”
“You’re kidnapping us?”
“No – we’re taking you somewhere you’ll never return from.”
“Oh god,” Rhona whispered as Belinda walked behind her. “I’m sorry, Rhona, but they have guns,” she whispered as she crossed her boss’s wrist behind her back and started to tie them together, taking the rope between her arms to tighten the bands holding them together.
“It’s... It’s all right, you don’t have a choice,” Rhona said as her arms were tied to her side by Belinda, the front of her cardigan opening as the ropes were pulled tightly.
“Gag her,” the chef said as he tossed a sponge ball and a roll of duct tape to Belinda, the girl nodding as Rhona allowed her to push the sponge into her open mouth, and then cover her closed lips with strips of silver tape.
“Uwntggwfftths,” Rhona mumbled as she was pushed back into a seat, one of the waiters wrapping rope around her ankles and pulling it tight as the second one started to bind Belinda’s wrists together behind her back. She was unable to stop him as the ropes held her wrists firmly together, her arms to her sides and her own legs together as she was pushed into a second chair, and then gagged in the same way as her boss.
“I’ll get their things,” the chef said as he picked up their bags, “get these two down to the van. I want to get away from here before anyone realises what is happening.”
The waiters nodded as they threw both women over their shoulders, Rhona protesting loudly as they were carried to the service lid, and then to a waiting dark painted transit van. The rear doors were opened, and as they were dropped on the floor their eyes widened at who else was inside.
Elaine was against the opposite wall, the rope squeaking on her ankles as she struggled to free her legs. Her arms were pinned to her side, her wrists behind her back, and a knotted silk scarf had been pulled between her lips. Suzanne was next to her, the stains from her mascara running down her face as she looked at the others, while Zoe was still unconscious on the floor, breathing in and out through her nose.
“Whtggnthppntsss,” Suzanne mumbled as the waiters looked at them.
“Enjoy the trip, ladies,” one of them said with a smirk as the chef threw the remaining coats and bags into the back of the van, and then slammed the doors shut. They looked at each other as they felt the van start, and then move off, screaming as they struggled, the squeak of rope on leather and cloth adding to the noise.
Rhona looked at Belinda, expecting her to panic as well, but instead her assistant was relaxing, her eyes closed as she fiddled with her fingers.
“Whtrrudng,” she mumbled as she looked at her, and then saw her start to move her face and jaw round, the tape moving with her before it started to move away from her skin at the edges.
A bulge appeared in the centre of the tape as Belinda started to push the sponge out of her mouth with her tongue, the other three watching as the tape bulged and came away, the sponge slowly protruding until she managed to push it all the way out, and it fell to the floor, the tape hitting the metal first.
“Keep calm,” she whispered as she looked at Rhona, Elaine and Suzanne, “these stupid idiots have no idea who they’re dealing with, or what they’re doing.”
“Whtdummnnn,” Suzanne said, as the van came to a sudden halt. They could hear shouts and something hitting against the side of the vehicle, and then silence.
Their eyes moved to the rear doors, as they heard someone pulling at them, and then forcing them open. A blinding light shone inside, as Belinda said “we’re all right – one unconscious, probably chloroform.”
“Whtsggnnn,” Zoe mumbled as she slowly opened her eyes, and she saw a woman dressed in black kneel next to her, and check her pulse.
“Looks like it,” she called over her shoulder, before she whispered to Zoe “Stay calm, just let yourself come to.” Reaching round her head, she untied and removed the young girl’s cleave gag, watching as she coughed and said “Wha... What happened?”
“Nothing for you to worry about,” the woman said as she turned and looked at the others. “We have transport waiting outside for all five of you, and a team of medics waiting to check to see you are alright. Please allow us to examine you and return you home – we will deal with this matter from here on in.”
“Belinda,” Rhona whispered hoarsely as her gag was removed, “how did you know...”
“I’ll explain another time – let’s just say I anticipated a problem, and took steps,” Belinda said as she untied Rhona. “Right now, come with me and get checked out.”
Belinda sat at the conference desk as the woman opposite read through the report, and then put it down in front of her.
“Good, quick thinking on your part, to activate the microphone and tracker,” she said as she looked at Belinda, smiling as she stood up and walked to the window.
“I realised something was wrong when Zoe disappeared, too late for her and Suzanne – and Elaine, as it turned out – but at least you were able to track and intercept the vehicle. Who were they anyway?”
“Associates of the Korean businessman we beat to the contract,” the red haired woman said, “be assured, Catherine Lo will be discussing the matter with him, alongside the others. Madame is very pleased with your foresight – a suitable bonus will be paid.”
“Do you wish me to continue as the inside person at this firm?”
Penelope Harker turned and nodded at Belinda. “Your assignment continues – we do not anticipate any further attempts, but you are placed to keep us advised of possible issues.”
“Of course – thank you,” Belinda said as she stood up and left the conference room, taking the lift to the ground floor and walking out onto The Aldwych, the gleaming gold letters of “Xavier International” behind her...