La Cioccolata in

Going Solo

by Doctor George

Training and preparation is important for any career. but at some point it all has to be put into practice and the trainee must prove that he or she is competent to perform the job alone. For Soo, that came at Halloween 2005...

It wasn’t a particularly cold evening for the end of October, but Soo was feeling distinctly under-dressed with bare shoulders. She was making her way along a suburban street doubly disguised as a young teenager in a Catwoman costume. Soo’s diminutive height and narrow frame tended to make her look younger than her twenty years anyway, but the effect was heightened by the very tight sports bra she was wearing to flatten her bust to almost nothing.

The costume itself was intended to resemble the sort of thing a youngster might improvise for the door-to-door panhandling for confectionery that Halloween had become in recent years. Rather than attempt an authentic costume such as the ones depicted in comic books, or the slightly more provocative numbers worn by Julie Newmar on television and Michelle Pfeiffer at the cinema, Soo based her outfit on the sort of items one might easily have to hand. The starting point was a black Lycra sleeveless unitard. In order not to freeze outright, Soo wore a pair of longjohns underneath. The gap of a few inches of midriff between bra and longjohns were therefore protected from the chill night air by only a single layer of black Lycra and felt almost as cold as her bare shoulders.

Rather than the thigh-high boots the costume really demanded, Soo wore a pair of rather more sensible knee-length black zip-up leather boots with modest one-inch heels. Her over-the-elbow black gloves were an inexpensive purchase from a costume shop. Underneath them, she wore a pair of latex gloves to act as a barrier to any possible DNA-bearing deposits. Her wig and mask were also from a costume shop. The wig was sold as being 'Rita Hayworth' style and was indeed shoulder-length, wavy and auburn, but was unlikely to convince anyone that it was real hair, certainly not at close quarters. The mask was advertised as a Catwoman mask. It formed a complete black velour cap over the top of Soo's head, reaching down level with the bottoms of her ears at the sides and back and down to the tip of her nose at the front with almond-shaped eye-holes. The top was decorated with the trademark cat ears. Soo had added some stiffening to the front of the mask to obtain a better fit but otherwise wore it as purchased.

Soo also wore a small black rucksack on her back and a strange-looking gun in a black holster at her waist. In her hand was a small orange plastic bucket in the shape of a Halloween pumpkin jack-o'-lantern, to further the fiction that she was a young teen in pursuit of goodies. As she walked past the houses, she could see small groups of children going from door to door, some with older siblings or parents watching from a safe distance. Some of them smiled at her as they went past, reassuring her that her disguise was working.

Soo turned off the street and up the path leading to a detached house set back from the street. The intelligence furnished by Coco was that the owners were out at a social function and that the house should be either empty or, at worst, with only their university-age daughter at home.

She paused on the door step and took several deep breaths to calm her nerves. This was the first time Coco had entrusted her with carrying out a robbery on her own. She was confident of her own skills, but nevertheless was feeling a bad case of butterflies in the stomach. This was an important step in her training, and she wanted it to be a successful one.

There were some lights on in the house, but that didn’t necessarily mean that there was anyone in. Soo rang the doorbell and waited. There was no response for a long time and Soo began to relax. There would be an alarm system to neutralise, but after that, it would be a straightforward raid on an empty house.

Just as Soo was about to reach for her lock-picks and start work, a light came on in the hallway. The blurry silhouette of an approaching figure could be seen through the rippled glass in the door.

The door swung open and the figure illuminated by the overhead porch light was revealed to be none other than La Cioccolata.

After the initial surprise, Soo realised that this person was a good six inches taller than the real La Cioccolata, and significantly slimmer. Rather than a black latex catsuit, she was dressed in a black leotard and tights and was wearing an inexpensive black basque instead of a black leather corset. The black canvas Converses with white rubber toecaps didn’t carry quite the same air of sophistication as shiny black leather boots would and this person also had bare hands rather than wearing black latex gloves.

Having scanned the figure in front of her, Soo’s gaze settled on her face. Blue eyes looked back at her through a black fabric eye mask fastened around a curly brown wig every bit as unconvincing as the one Soo wore herself.

“La Cioccolata,” Soo said, after thoroughly appraising the young woman in front of her.

“Thank you. Not many people manage to work it out,” she replied with a grin. “Your costume is really good. Lots of people just wear a pair of ears and a mask for Catwoman, but you’ve put a lot of effort into that.”

“Thank you,” Soo replied politely. “I always like to be dressed properly for a robbery.”

The bogus La Cioccolata laughed in reply, as Soo stood there smiling.

“No laughing matter, Bernadette,” Soo continued recalling the daughter’s name from her briefing, “this really and truly is a robbery.” She drew the gun out of her holster and pointed it at the woman to make her point.

“That’s not a real gun,” Bernadette pointed out.

“You know those things vets use to sedate wild animals?”

Bernadette looked down at the oddly-shaped pistol.

“You can cooperate or I can use it on you,” Soo said wiggling the gun to make her point. “It won’t do you any harm but you’ll feel dreadful when you wake up.”

Bernadette stared back at Soo, obviously still not sure if this was an elaborate hoax.

“Come on,” Soo barked, abandoning her little-girl voice. “Let’s get this over and done with.”

Bernadette stepped back into the hallway while Soo followed her and closed the door behind her.

“Hands where I can see them, please.”

Bernadette raised her hands and led the way to an open door at the fan end of the hallway. Soo didn’t much care where they went; her next job was to immobilise Bernadette and it didn’t really matter which room she did it in.

The room proved to be a small sitting room, furnished with armchairs and a sofa. However, the thing that caught Soo’s attention was the straight-backed wooden chair in the middle of the room. Seated on the chair, with her back to Soo, was a small girl dressed entirely in white with a white fright wig on her head. The girl’s wrists were tied behind her back and she was lashed to the chair with a woollen scarf. As she turned her head to look over her shoulder, Soo could see she was gagged with something tied between her teeth.

This discovery put Soo in something of a quandary. Coco had a strong ethic against tying up children other than in exceptional circumstances and had been known to abandon a job to avoid doing so. However, this appeared to be different: it looked as though the girl had been tied up by Bernadette and was a willing victim. Soo concluded that there was no harm in simply capitalising on the girl’s predicament and leaving her tied up while she dealt with Bernadette

Soo’s momentary distraction was almost her undoing. She sensed motion behind her and ducked just in time to avoid a tae-kwon-do style kick to her head. She grabbed an ankle with her left hand as it swung past and twisted it, tipping Bernadette face-first onto the floor. Soo dived on top of the young woman, pinning her down with one knee on her left elbow and the other on the small of her back. She pressed down on the nape of Bernadette’s neck with her left hand to keep her face on the carpet then brought the injection gun into contact with Bernadette’s bottom and pulled the trigger. There was a metallic clunk as the needle shot forward, delivered a measured dose of anaesthetic and then retracted back into the gun. Bernadette wriggled her right arm out from under her body and stretched it out behind her attempting to reach her attacker. Soo dropped her weapon and used her now free right hand to twist Bernadette’s arm painfully up behind her.

After a few seconds, Bernadette’s struggles became weaker and less coordinated as the sedative took effect. Soo waited until she felt the arm she was clutching relax then let go of her victim.

“Oo’ve illed er!” the girl in white tied to the chair exclaimed in horror. The gag she was wearing was a long white sock between her teeth and tied behind her head. Other than blurring her consonants, slightly, it did little to impede her speech.

“No I haven’t,” Soo replied. “I’ve just put her to sleep for a few minutes while I tie her up. She’ll be fine when she wakes up.”

The girl said nothing but watched as Soo unslung her rucksack and unloaded several bundles of rope from it.

Soo dragged Bernadette to a clear area of floor. She briefly checked her pulse and lifted one eyelid. It was apparent that the young woman was not completely unconscious, so Soo would have to work quickly. She arranged Bernadette so she was lying face-down on the carpet and crossed her wrists behind her back. She bound them together with several turns of rope first north-south then east-west, finally forming a firm knot above the binding where it would be out of reach of probing fingers.

She lashed the young woman’s ankles together next with a cinch to draw the binding tight and the final knot in front of the ankles where it too would be out of reach.

Now that Bernadette was largely immobilised, Soo had time to work a little more slowly. She manoeuvred herself so that she could work one foot under the woman’s hips lifting her stomach a little clear of the floor. She used the space to wind a coil of rope around Bernadette’s waist, trapping her bound wrists against her back. She used a final short length of rope to fasten the wrist binding to the waist rope.

Soo usually liked to apply a coil of rope around her victim’s arms and chest next, but that was impractical with someone lying on the floor. She settled for a binding linking Bernadette’s upper arms together just above the elbows, taking care not to put unnecessary stress on them. This approach would not immobilise the young woman’s arms completely, but would severely limit any attempt to pull her hands free.

Shuffling down towards her victim’s feet, Soo put a foot under the woman’s knees so she could lash her legs together at mid thigh level. She cinched the binding as she had with the ankles, but left it slightly loose.

Soo selected another length of rope and fastened one end of it off to Bernadette’s ankle binding. She bent the young woman’s legs at the knee and gently guided her feet towards her bottom, stopping when she judged the stress on her back might be painful She tied off the other end of the rope to the centre of the binding linking her upper arms. Soo paused, reviewing the mechanics of the tie up before deciding to add another length or rope. She found its centre and fastened it to the knot that she had just formed, which joined the hog-tie rope to the one linking Bernadette’s upper arms. She led the two loose ends upwards and over Bernadette’s shoulders. Reaching underneath her victim, Soo crossed the ropes over and led then out to the sides. She threaded them up between her arms and chest each side and fastened the ends off where they had begun. There was now no risk of Bernadette getting the upper arm rope down below her elbows by pulling with her feet.

Bernadette was showing signs of returning to full consciousness, so Soo rummaged in her rucksack once more and drew out two polythene-wrapped pieces of cloth. She rolled one into a ball and worked it inside her victim’s mouth. She paused for a moment, checking for any sign of choking, and then folded the second cloth into a band which she pulled between Bernadette’s teeth and knotted behind her head deep in the curls of her brown wig.

The discomfort of being gagged was enough to bring Bernadette fully back to her senses. She struggled against the ropes holding her and mumbled something incomprehensible through her gag.

“Just relax,” Soo advised. “I know how to tie people up, so you’re not going to escape, but you might hurt yourself if you carry on like that.”

The reply was a muffled imprecation. Bernadette stopped struggling, but her movements suggested that she was exploring her bonds, searching for weaknesses. Soo made a mental note to check the knots before leaving.

With Bernadette safely under control, Soo turned her attention to the girl in white tied to the chair. She was dressed in a white leotard and tights. The collar of a white sweater was visible at the neckline of the leotard and the slight lumpiness of the tights suggested that she had another layer on under them too. She was also wearing a white ballet tutu, which was crumpled awkwardly between her back and the chair while sticking up at an odd angle at the front. Her hands were covered with white woollen gloves pulled up over the sleeves of the leotard. She wore a pair of white canvas gym shoes over white ankle socks. The all-white theme was continued to the white face paint that covered all visible skin and the white fright wig she wore. The white was relieved by black shading around each eye and some sort of black markings on her mouth, which were partially obscured by the long sock tied between her teeth.

“Who are you then?” Soo asked.

“M Zama,” the girl mumbled.

“Zama? Zana? Zara?”

The girl twisted her neck back and to one side then wiggled it from side to side, working her gag out of her mouth and down below her chin so that it flopped loosely around her neck.

With the gag gone, the girl’s mouth was now properly visible. Her lips had been thinly marked with black lipstick extending an inch or so either side of her real mouth and a series of vertical lines drawn across those to suggest a grinning skull. The smile was distinctly creepy.

“I’m Xana, Bernie’s my cousin,” she explained, now free to speak clearly.

“Ksana?”

“Well, Alexandra really,” the girl admitted, “so I’m Xana spelled with an X but pronounced with a KS. It’s much cooler than being called Sandra or Alexa.”

“True,” Soo agreed.

Soo took a moment to inspect Xana’s situation. She was largely secured to her chair by two long woollen scarves. A pink one was wound around her waist and the back of the chair. It went around four times, which must have made it ridiculously long for its intended purpose, Soo reflected, and was knotted at the front. An equally immense grey scarf was wrapped several times over Xana’s lap and under the chair seat and knotted below the seat. Her wrists were tied behind her back with what Soo first took to be a black sock, but which on closer examination turned out to be a pair of opaque nylon tights with one leg ingeniously turned inside out inside the other. The binding was a competent-looking wrap and cinch arrangement. Soo slid a finger between the binding and Xana’s wrist. It was snug but not dangerously tight and, in Soo’s judgement, probably inescapable. The girl’s ankles were tied with a white woollen scarf of a more conventional length.

“Are you a real burglar? Are you going to tie me up with lots of rope like Bernie?” Xana asked, her voice sounding more eager than apprehensive.

“Apart from your gag, you look to be pretty secure already, so I’ll just leave you as you are and put a better gag in your mouth,” Soo replied.

“But Bernie hadn’t finished tying me up when you came to the door,” the girl objected.

“Why are you all tied up anyway? You look as though you’re dressed up for going out,” Soo asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“Well, we did go out to do trick-or-treat earlier, but there weren’t many people in and we both got cold outside like this, so we came back. As Bernie was dressed up as La Cioccolata, we decided it would be fun if she tied me up as if she was robbing me.”

Soo smiled as she squatted next to the young girl. “It looks like she did a good job of it. Has she done this to you before?”

“Yes, we quite often play games like this, but only when I visit here. My parents don’t quite approve, so we never do it at my house. That’s why we use scarves and things, so there won’t be any marks showing when I get home and my mum won’t find out.”

“I think your mum is going to find out this time.”

“Yes, so it won’t matter if you tie me up properly with rope like you did to Bernie.”

“I’m here to burgle the house not to play games with you,” Soo retorted. “You’re tied up and not going anywhere and that’s enough for me. All I need to do is to fix that gag of yours, then I’ll get on with my job.”

Xana tried a different tack. “But Bernie was going to tie me up much more than this, to make sure I wouldn’t escape like I sometimes do.” She placed careful emphasis on the last few words. “She had all that stuff ready and she’d have used most of it too.” Xana nodded towards a tangle of socks and rather stretched-looking scarves on one of the armchairs in the room.

Soo hesitated, weighing up the risk of Xana escaping against having to spend longer on the job than necessary. She concluded that, on balance, being sure her prisoners were secure was a good thing. With a sigh, she crossed to the chair pointed out by Xana and took stock of the material left there by Bernadette.

“OK, you’ve persuaded me,” Soo told Xana, “but if you don’t like what I do to you, that’s just too bad.”

For most of Soo’s life, she had not thought much about chairs beyond questions of comfort and style. Her training as La Cioccolata’s apprentice had added a whole new dimension: chairs as objects to tie people to. She had been taught to consider the construction and geometry of a chair with an eye for strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Xana’s chair was a sturdy-looking wooden specimen that could have dated from any time after the beginning of the 20th century. The front legs were straight and disappeared up inside the hardwood frame that surrounded the plywood seat. The back legs continued upwards to form the support for the backrest and were attached to the back of the seat. The main part of the backrest was a horizontal piece of wood, curved to accommodate the user’s back and going out beyond the uprights by a couple of inches each side. Below that were four narrower horizontal wooden slats that just spanned between the uprights. The legs were linked by wooden braces about half way between floor and seat at the sides and a little higher at the front and back.

Soo noted with approval that Bernadette had taken advantage of the geometry of the chair in placing the two scarves that lashed Xana to it. The one over her lap had the knot below the chair seat, which would be difficult for her to reach even if that was her only bond. The one around her waist and the chair back was placed below the main part of the backrest, so that it would be impossible for her to work it up over the top of the chair and effect an escape that way. She pondered for a moment how to better this arrangement.

“Right, Xana, lean as far forward as you can.”

The girl did as instructed, opening up a gap of a couple of inches between her back and the upper part of the backrest.

Soo selected a scarf, shaking it loose from the heap of unused binding materials. She folded it in half to find the centre and discovered that it was still longer than her height.

“This is a crazy length for a scarf.”

“Well it wasn’t as long as that before we started tying each other up with it,” Xana admitted.

“Just as well that’s what I’m going to use it for then,” Soo observed.

Having found the middle of the scarf, Soo threaded one end up between the backrest and Xana’s back then left the two ends trailing down onto the floor.

“You can lean back now.”

Soo rummaged through the heap and picked out a pair of long socks.

“Stick your elbows out a bit.”

Xana did as she was told, lifting her bound wrists slightly as she did so.

Soo passed one of the socks under Xana’s left arm and knotted the ends loosely in a simple overhand knot on top of her shoulder. She repeated the operation with its partner on the other shoulder. The girl craned her head around to see what was happening but said nothing.

“Elbows back in now,” Soo instructed. “Press them as tightly as you can against your sides.”

Soo picked up another scarf, the last long one remaining on the heap, and wound it around Xana’s upper arms and chest, pulling it as tightly as she could to form a band of wool just above the level of the chair’s back rest and tied a bulky but secure knot at the front. Next, she untied the knot securing one of the socks she had tied over Xana’s shoulders. She threaded the sock underneath the scarf she had just positioned and knotted the ends together to cinch the binding. She did the same with the other sock, then adjusted the tension in each so that the scarf hugged Xana’s arms and chest tightly.

“A bit tighter than when Bernadette does it?”

Xana nodded.

“It’s going to get even more tight, but I’ll make sure it doesn’t hurt,” Soo assured her.

Soo lifted the ends of the scarf that she had looped over the backrest and tossed them forward over Xana’s shoulders. She moved around so she was standing in front of the girl then crossed the ends of the scarf over on her chest then threaded them between the girl’s chest and the side members of the chair back just below the main backrest. Moving behind the chair, she crossed the ends of the scarf, pressing Xana’s arms against the woodwork of the chair, and threaded them back between the girl’s body and the side members at about her waist level. Working from the front again, Soo brought the ends together and knotted them. She reached up and tugged on the scarf to tighten it at each crossing of Xana’s body, finally taking up the slack by retying the knot securely.

Bernadette’s stash of binding materials, although diminished, still gave Soo the choice of several scarves and pairs of long socks. She selected a scarf and used it to tie a figure-of-eight knot around Xana’s wrists above the black tights securing them together. She took the ends around the girl’s waist and knotted them together at the front.

“Right, that’s your top half done. Just your legs to do, and then I’m finished,” Soo announced.

Soo used another scarf to bind Xana’s legs together just below her knees, cinching the binding to draw it snugly into place. She untied the girl’s ankle binding then retied it using the same scarf, but cinching it as she had done with the knee binding. She threaded a long sock between Xana’s legs just above the scarf binding her ankles and fastened the ends around one of the front chair legs. She used a second sock going to the opposite chair leg and then adjusted the knots so that Xana’s feet were kept centred between the chair legs. She used another pair of socks in much the same way going just above the knee binding and around the tops of the chair legs.

“Now all I have to do is to sort out that gag,” Soo informed her prisoner.

She untied the knot on the sock that was still loose around Xana’s neck and rolled it up into a ball.

“This goes in you mouth,” Soo said holding it in front of Xana’s face.

Xana complied by opening her mouth.

Soo gasped involuntarily at the row of pointed teeth that were revealed. Even after she realised that it had been achieved by careful use of black tooth paint, she had to admit it was very effective.

“That’s really good – two layers of teeth like the alien in Alien.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Xana acknowledged.

“Enough chat, I need to get on, so open wide, please.”

“OK.”

Xana obediently opened her mouth again and allowed the sock to be stuffed into it. Soo picked up a scarf and tied it over Xana’s mouth and nose, making sure that the lower edge went well below her chin. She knotted it tightly behind the girl’s head, eliciting a slight grunt as she did so.

“Now, don’t fiddle with that or I might have to make it much worse,” Soo admonished.

* * *

Coco’s intelligence regarding the actual robbery, passed on to Soo in her briefing, had been very thorough. She already knew the layout of the house and the location of an office containing a safe.

The safe was a traditional grey steel cabinet safe with a mechanical combination lock. Soo’s notes included the combination, which she dialled in to reveal the expected large stash of currency, mainly in US Dollars and Euros. She transferred the cash to her rucksack and then examined the remainder of the safe’s contents, but found nothing of interest.

With the main objective of the robbery accomplished, Soo took a tour of the remainder of the house to see if there was anything else worth picking up. There proved to be a small amount of gold jewellery amongst a large quantity of wooden and plastic beads and bangles. She wondered if Bernadette’s mother was allergic to the nickel in costume jewellery as she helped herself to the gold.

* * *

Soo thought it might be prudent to check on her prisoners before leaving the house, so returned to the room where she had left them tied up.

Bernadette had moved a considerable distance across the floor towards Xana’s chair and was currently twisted around attempting to reach the knots on her ankle binding with her outstretched fingers.

“That’s not going to work,” Soo advised her. “The knots are on the front of your ankles and there’s no way you can reach them tied up like that.”

Nevertheless, Soo realised, if Bernadette reached Xana, she might go some way to freeing her. She remedied the situation by dragging Bernadette back to where she had left her and blindfolding her with a black legwarmer that was left in the pile of binding materials.

Soo turned to Xana. Her bonds all seemed still to be secure, but the scarf securing her gag had slipped below her nose.

“I told you not to fiddle with that,” Soo said.

She pinched the scarf into a narrow band where it passed across Xana’s mouth and forced it back between her teeth. She reached behind the girl’s head and loosened the knot before re-tightening it. A muffled squawk of protest emerged from behind the gag.

Soo spotted a mobile phone lying on the sofa beside the much reduced pile of binding materials. She picked it up, eliciting another grunt from Xana.

“I’m not going to steal it, but I thought you might like me to take your picture.”

Xana nodded enthusiastically, so Soo took several shots of the girl and several of Bernadette. She put down the phone and picked up the partner of the black legwarmer she had tied across Bernadette’s eyes, using it to blindfold Xana in the same way.

* * *

Back out on the street, Soo walked along purposefully, still swinging her plastic pumpkin bucket from one hand. It was getting late and cold, so she saw very few others still out trick-or-treating.

After a few minutes, a car drew to a halt beside her. She opened the passenger door and climbed in.

The woman in the driving seat was dressed in black with the lower half of her face obscured by a scarf.

“Did everything go according to plan?” she asked as she pulled away from the kerb.

“Not quite, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle,” Soo replied. “I’ll tell you the details later.”

 

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