La Cioccolata in

Staff Training

by Doctor George

In early 2005, as related in ‘Return Visit’, Coco acquired an assistant in the person of Soo Angarrack, whom we first met in Gillian B’s story ‘Occupational Hazards’. Of course it’s one thing to have staff, quite another to make sure they are properly trained...

Coco explored the rope securing her wrists with the tips of her fingers, choosing the best approach to escaping from her current predicament. She was sure that she would manage to escape, but she wanted to avoid any wasted effort and to minimise the discomfort that might be involved in wriggling free.

It wasn’t a particularly complicated or unusual tie-up that held her. She was lying face down on a carpeted floor. Her wrists were crossed and bound securely together behind her back. They were also fastened to a coil of four or five turns of rope around her waist. Coco’s ability to pull against her wrist binding was hampered by the rope wound around her chest and upper arms which was also cinched between her arms and body. Her legs were lashed together in three places, her ankles as well as both above and below her knees, each binding cinched between her legs. Her mouth was wedged open by a thick scarf between her teeth and knotted tightly behind her head.

After a few minutes probing and testing the limits of her movements, Coco started her escape attempt in earnest. She focussed on the ropes around her chest and upper arms. More specifically, she focussed on the rope around her right arm. The hemp rope clung tenaciously to the rough wool of the heavy sweater she wore. Underneath that, however, she wore a soft silk blouse which slid easily inside the sleeve of her sweater. After a few experimental twists and turns, Coco settled into a rhythm of gentle movements that resulted in the rope sliding down over her elbow, taking the sleeve of the sweater with it, somewhat distending the neckline.

With her elbow no longer restrained, Coco could apply a powerful straight pull against her wrist binding. A certain degree of twisting and wriggling was required to persuade her hand to slide through the ropes, and it was necessary to tolerate a small amount of violence to the skin as this happened, but before many minutes had passed, Coco’s right hand was free.

Now that one hand was free, complete escape was only a matter of time. Coco systematically located and untied knots until her arms were free. She removed her gag for comfort then rolled over so that she could sit with her back upright. She pulled the hem of her skirt up out of the way while she leaned forwards to untie her legs.

Coco stood up, smoothing her skirt down as she did so. She gathered up the ropes and gag and took them with her as she left the room. The adjacent room was a kitchen where a young woman was making a pot of tea.

“Not a bad effort, but you’ll still need to do a lot better than that,” Coco said as she sat down at the kitchen table.

“Less than ten minutes,” Coco’s assistant Soo Angarrack announced, consulting her watch.

“Not long enough for most of our jobs,” Coco said as she accepted a cup of tea.

“But you’re an expert at escaping,” Soo pointed out. “Most people I’d have to tie up won’t be.”

“True, but you can’t take that chance and you can’t really ask them, ‘Excuse me, but are you any good at escapology?’ before you tie them up.”

“I was so sure it would take you ages. You’ve told me before how important it is to keep elbows under control so there’s no leverage for getting hands free and I really thought I’d done that.”

Coco explained to her protégée just how she had effected her escape.

“And I thought that big bulky sweater would make it much harder to get out,” Soo commented ruefully.

“Some clothes make it easier and some make it harder. It’s all down to experience knowing how best to tie someone up.”

“So I get to be on the receiving end of another tying up experience next?”

“Finish your tea first, Soo.”

***

Ten minutes later, Soo had exchanged the black trousers and purple silk blouse she had worn to work that day for a pair of black cotton leggings and a pink sweater that she had bought before she started dying her hair its present shade of purple-black. The colour combination was not a felicitous one, nor was it helped by the light blue and white knee-length Argyle check socks she wore over the leggings or the rainbow-striped woollen gloves on her hands.

“Will this do?” Soo asked.

“Should be fine,” Coco confirmed, looking her up and down.

“Fine for what? Is this going to be another of your novelty tie-ups?”

“I was planning to use this.” Coco produced a spool of brown twine.

“A ball of string?”

“Best quality jute fillis twine,” Coco said in a quiet, if slightly disapproving voice. “The gardener's first choice for dealing with intruders.”

“It looks as though I should be able to snap it with my fingers,” Soo commented fingering the loose end of the twine with one gloved hand.

“You probably can; give it a try,” Coco encouraged.

Soo twisted the twine around her fingers to get s firm grip and then pulled. It parted with very little effort. “It shouldn't be too difficult to get out of this if it breaks that easily,” she said.

“Tell me that again when I've got you trussed up,” Coco retorted. “Turn round and put your hands behind your back.”

When Coco had finished, Soo was sitting on the floor with her legs stretched out in front of her. Her wrists were tied together palm-to-palm behind her back with about fifteen turns of twine which were cinched with another half dozen turns between the wrists. Her thumbs were also tied together and the binding neatly cinched. There were bands of twine binding Soo's legs together at the ankles, below her knees and at mid thigh. For good measure, each of her socks had been pushed down in the gap between the first and second toes and the big toes tied together in the same way as her thumbs. The major element of Soo's binding was, however, the web of twine that covered her from neck to toe. After securing Soo's limbs, Coco wound the remainder of the spool of jute fillis around her, starting with twenty or more turns around her arms and chest then more spiralling down her legs to her feet. There was more left, so Coco spiralled it back up again. Every few turns, Coco pushed the reel of twine through the loop she had just made around Soo, so forming an overhand knot. The remaining twine allowed Coco to spiral it up to Soo's shoulders and back down to her waist where she secured the end to earlier layers of twine with a small knot.

“How's that?” Coco asked.

“Very snug and secure,” Soo replied. “I really didn't think you could do this with a bit of string.”

“Best quality jute fillis.”

“Whatever,” Soo replied. “But you wouldn't really tie someone up like this would you?”

“Probably not, but I'm trying to give you as wide experience as I can. I don't want you to think you can get out of anything just because you can wriggle out of a couple of bits of rope.”

“I'll do my best with this, but I don't seem to have much wriggle room,” Soo said.

“Wait until I've gagged you before you start.”

“Will a gag make any difference?”

“If you can get your teeth to the twine, you can probably chew through it quite easily.”

“OK,” Soo conceded. She attempted a shrug, but with no visible effect.

Coco balled up a handkerchief and gently pushed it into Soo's mouth, carefully tucking it behind her teeth. She wrapped a soft tartan scarf across Soo's mouth, knotted it tightly at the back of her head and arranged it so that it covered her nose and went below her chin.

“Right, I'll leave you to get on with it. I'm going to put these back in the dressing-up box and put my own clothes on,” Coco said, tugging at the rather shapeless brown sweater she was still wearing.

Left on her own, Soo engaged in a token struggle. It was surprisingly difficult to move at all the way she was tied and, as she rather anticipated, she achieved precisely nothing constructive but helplessly toppled over sideways.

Soo felt that Coco had offered her a clue when she had gagged her. If she could rid herself of the gag, she might be able to chew through enough strands of twine to gain some valuable freedom of movement. Alas, it turned out that the scarf had no stretch in it at all and was tied too tightly across Soo's face to be able to force it down over her nose and below her chin, no matter how hard she rubbed it against the carpet.

The only other strategy Soo could think of was to abrade her bonds against something, a trope beloved of adventure story writers. She looked around the room searching for something that could serve as the Convenient Sharp Object necessary for a storybook heroine to escape in that manner. The only thing she could see that could conceivably do the job was a big brass nut just below the valve on the central heating radiator. Everything else was too high up for her to reach from her current position on the floor.

After a little experimentation, Soo discovered that she could make slow progress across the floor, lying on her side and propelling herself with her feet. As she approached the radiator, she realised that there was nothing she could use to break her bond. The brass nut she had spotted had smoothly rounded shoulders, so there were no useful corners that could b e used to wear away at the twine. She rolled onto her back wondering what to do next.

"Giving up already?" Coco asked as she returned to the room. She had exchanged the baggy brown sweater and tweed skirt she had worn for Soo's attempt to tie her up for a loose blue needlecord overdress with a bright red collarless blouse showing underneath it. A pair of matching opaque tights, currently worn without shoes, echoed the colour of the blouse. Coco sat down on an armchair and set the mug of tea she carried on a small table.

Soo shook her head vigorously. Privately she was beginning to think that she might well have been defeated. Despite the apparent absurdity of being tied up with ridiculously thin twine, she found it very restrictive. Parcelled up as she was, her arms were pinned to her sides and it was impossible to move her legs independently. The many turns of twine wound around her made it very difficult to bend her legs or her upper body. Nevertheless, her pride would not allow her to give in, not just yet anyway.

"The table at Giuseppina's isn't booked till seven, so you've a while yet and still time for a shower before we go out."

Soo grunted in reply and looked around the room for inspiration from her vantage point on the floor. After a few minutes, she found the perfect Convenient Sharp Object. The problem was that she was trussed up on the floor and the object she had in her sights was the latch on the door into the room. Making any use of it presupposed that she could get herself vertical somehow.

Even sitting up again was going to be an effort Soo concluded after an abortive effort. With a little more trial and error, she arrived at a method that worked. She raised her feet then rocked herself back and forth on her bottom until she was able to build up momentum to go right forward into a sitting position. Still leaning forwards so as not to tip over backwards again, Soo slid herself backwards little-by-little by raising her knees as far as her bonds would allow and pushing against the carpet with her heels.

Soo eventually reached her goal. She manoeuvred herself into the door opening with her toes against the hinge side of the frame and her back against the other side. Soo tried to push herself upright by straightening her legs. Nothing happened at first, so she took a few seconds rest then tried again, her eyes tight shut with the strain and her teeth clamped hard together. Soo's legs straightened and her back slid smoothly up the painted wood of the door jamb. Although her wrists were tightly tied, Soo could still use her spread fingertips to guide her upward progress and to prevent herself from toppling over sideways.

Once her legs were straight and her knees safely locked, Soo took another rest, her breathing harsh and ragged through her gag.

"Are you OK?" Coco enquired anxiously.

Soo nodded in reply then applied herself to the next stage of her strategy. Taking great care not to lose her balance, she moved her feet back in a series of small hops until she was standing upright, still with her back against the door jamb.

Now she was fully vertical, Soo had to get herself in a position where she could make use of the door latch. There was no alternative but to venture away from her support and hope that she could keep her balance. She progressed with a series of short cautious hops, stopping occasionally to be sure she was balanced stably. Eventually she succeeded in positioning herself with her back to the edge of the door. Soo spread her fingers to keep the door from swinging and gently bent her knees to bring her bound wrists down to the level of the sharp triangular bolt protruding from its edge.

It was impossible for Soo to see what was happening, but the rasping sound of the twine running over the sharp point of the door latch was encouraging. It was quickly evident that the thin strands of jute were no match for the treatment she was giving them. After a few strokes her wrist binding was noticeably looser. After persisting for a few minutes, her wrists were completely free and her hands only held together by her bound thumbs. Taking care not to rush and risk losing her balance, Soo scraped away at the twine lashing her thumbs together. A few minute later, she could separate her hands.

Soo's arms were still securely lashed to her sides by the many turns of twine wound around her, so although her wrists were free, she still had very little freedom of movement. She grabbed one of the strands across her back at wrist level with both hands and broke it using the point of the door latch. After repeating this process with a few more strands, there was enough slack for Soo to work her arms most of the way round in front of her. She turned herself around and worked away at individual strands of twine, breaking them in turn using the point of the latch as before. It was quicker now that she could see what she was doing, but despite that, still frustratingly slow.

Breaking turns of twine above waist level required Soo to bend her knees more and more to bring the strands down to the level of the door latch, increasing the risk of overbalancing. Soo decided that she needed to find a better tool. Soo hopped carefully away from the door and turned to exit from the room. It was much easier to make progress no as Soo could make more use of her arms to maintain balance.

Coco followed Soo out of the sitting room and into the kitchen. The smooth tiled floor made the risk of falling much greater, but Soo successfully attained her goal: the cutlery drawer. She carefully drew it open and reached in for one of the large pairs of scissors that were kept there.

It took Soo less than a minute to snip through the many turns of jute twine encircling her chest and arms, letting them fall to the floor around her. With her arms completely free, Soo put the scissors down and untied the scarf securing her gag. She tossed the handkerchief that had been filling her mouth into the sink.

Taking up the scissors again, Soo reached down and snipped through her bonds, working her way down to knee level, which was as far as she could safely reach. She hopped across to the kitchen table and sat down on one of the chairs so that she could lean forwards to remove the last of the jute twine, finishing with the binding holding her big toes together.

"Very impressive," Coco commented, "especially getting yourself upright like that. I really didn't think you could do that."

"Thank you," Soo replied. "One of the advantages of being my size is that you get a pretty good strength to weight ratio."

Coco consulted the kitchen clock. "Half an hour till we need to be at Giuseppina's."

"Time for a quick shower before we go out," Soo said, getting up from the chair.

Fifteen minutes later, Soo had changed back into her black trousers and purple blouse and added an embroidered waistcoat in very dark green and blue paisley pattern and a black velvet jacket. A pair of ankle length boots with Cuban heels made a modest increase to her height. Coco had added a pair of navy blue shoes and a scarlet pashmina wrap to her outfit.

The two women set out for their regular Friday evening meal out together to celebrate the end of another working week.

***

On Mondays, Coco's office was technically closed. This didn't mean that Monday wasn't a working day, merely that the telephone was left on the answering machine and that clients generally didn't come to the office that day. Coco often used Monday as a day to go out and meet people, which could be in the context of either of her businesses, legitimate or not. More often than not, it was a day for staying in and getting on with things in peace and quiet, which could also be in the context of either business.

On this particular day, Soo was engaged in sorting through the contents of a cupboard that was usually hidden out of sight behind a concealed door built into a bank of bookshelves. Most of the contents of the cupboard was equipment that had been used at one time or another by La Cioccolata on jobs, or items that had been stored in the belief that they might one day be of use. The front part of the cupboard was quite well organised, but the deeper recesses were something of a mystery. Everything was neatly boxed and stacked, but some of it had been there for years and Coco no longer remembered exactly what was there. Soo decided it was time to systematically open every box and note at least roughly what it contained.

Soo's task would have been easier if she had simply pulled everything out of the cupboard and then examined each item as she put it back, but the whole point of having a hidden cupboard was to keep it hidden, so she made sure that she could close everything up at a moment's notice. As it was Monday, no visitors were expected, but Coco advocated a circumspect approach to security, hence Soo's caution.

Coco's prudent policy proved its worth when the doorbell rang. Soo was on her hands and knees in the back of the cupboard at the time. Slightly annoyed at being disturbed, she reversed out, leaving behind the clipboard she was using. She stood up and dusted her hands off before swinging back into place the shelves that hid both the cupboard and Coco's safe.

As chance would have it, the caller, whoever it was, had chosen to arrive when Coco was out at the post office, so Soo had no option but to answer the door herself. She was a little disconcerted with having to deal with a visitor dressed as she was. Soo was dressed in a bright red t-shirt emblazoned with the wartime government slogan 'Keep Calm and Carry On', a pair of rather worn black cotton leggings and, currently, bare feet, which was sensible attire for organising a cupboard, but hardly the standard of professional dress she would usually adopt as Coco's assistant.

The other reason for Soo's concern was the way the doorbell had been rung. There had been four distinct rings: long, short, long, short; a letter C in Morse code, indicating what Coco called a 'Class C visitor'. Coco recognised two distinct classes of visitor, depending on which of her personae the visitor had business with. Most visitors were Class A, A being for Aldington, and had business with Aldington Associates, Coco's legitimate engineering consultancy. Paradoxically, Class C was more elite than Class A. Class C visitors, C being for Cioccolata, were the very few people who knew Coco both as herself and as La Cioccolata, international jewel thief. (There was, of course, a third category of people who only knew Coco as La Cioccolata, but they never came anywhere near the house and only ever met Coco so heavily disguised that they would never recognise her again.)

Whoever the visitor was, it was someone who not only knew Coco's dual identity, but also knew how to identify him or herself as such. Soo was not quite sure what she should do under these circumstances, but on the way to the door she concluded that she should probably do the same as she would with any other visitor who arrived in Coco's absence; she should show them into the sitting room and offer them coffee. Her clothing was more casual (and dustier) than she would wish, but professional aplomb could make up for many things.

As Soo opened the door, she discovered that there was not one visitor but two. They were both tall blonde women in their mid twenties and very obviously twins, possibly the most identical pair of twins Soo had ever seen. Contrasting with Soo's own slightly dishevelled appearance, they were immaculately turned out, but she decided that wasn't going to faze her. Unusually for adult twins, they were dressed identically. Both wore smartly-tailored pink suits with skirts cut well above the knee. The pink was a sophisticated slightly dusky shade perfectly matched by the leather shoulder bags both women carried and set off by the white scoop-neck tops they wore underneath their jackets and their translucent white tights and white canvas shoes. One of the women also carried a white nylon holdall.

One of the women introduced herself as Margot Harman and her companion as Henrietta Harman. They both handed over business cards.

Soo recognised the name Margot Harman, but this woman was far too young to be the Margot Harman, Coco's mentor, who must surely be in her eighties by now. Unlikely to be a daughter for the same reason. A granddaughter perhaps?

Soo explained Coco's absence and ushered the women into the house. As they stepped up over the threshold, she realise just how tall they were: at least six feet, possibly more. They also looked familiar, but Soo couldn't place them at all and she was sure she ought to recognise anyone as striking as these two.

Leaving the visitors in the sitting room, Soo busied herself in the kitchen, filling up the coffee machine and switching it on. She still had a nagging feeling that she should know who Coco’s visitors were. She resigned herself to the possible embarrassment of asking the women to avoid a greater embarrassment if she avoided the issue and then said something stupid later. To her relief , she heard the front door open and close.

She returned to the sitting room in time to see the two blonde women leap to their feet and engulf Coco in embraces with a chorused cry of, “Auntie Coco!”

“Strictly an honorary aunt,” Coco explained to Soo when she had been released from the hugs. “These two are my friend Charlotte Harman’s girls. You’ve probably seen them on television.”

The twins laughed at the mix of recognition and chagrin written on Soo’s face and launched into their trademark introduction.

“I’m Maggie...”

“...and I’m Hettie...”

“...and we’re Harmonics.”

The last word was sung rather than spoken, with the women pitching their voices a major third apart.

“I’m so sorry,” Soo said. “I knew I knew you from somewhere, but meeting you out of context like this was too much for my poor little brain. I’ll get the coffee now; I think I need it.”

A few minutes later, Soo set down a tray of coffee things on a low table in the middle of the room.

“Girls, I need to introduce you to Miss Susan Angarrack,” Coco announced. “Soo has just started as my PA and she is also my apprentice.” Coco placed particular emphasis on the last word.

“You’ve finally taken on an apprentice!” exclaimed one of the twins.

“Why now, all of a sudden?” her sister asked.

“Soo made me an offer I found that I couldn’t refuse,” Coco explained with an expressive shrug.

“There were offers both ways,” Soo commented, “and believe me, I wasn’t in a position to refuse either.”

The conversation drifted off into enquiries about family members and mutual acquaintances shared by Coco and the twins. Not having much to contribute, Soo poured the coffee, and sat politely.

Eventually, Maggie turned to Coco and asked, "So, what can we do for you?" Her tone was brisk and businesslike.

"Soo needs more training," Coco replied, "and you two are the best in the business."

The twins smiled to acknowledge the compliment.

"Training at what?" Soo asked, wondering where the conversation was suddenly going.

"Well, you've seen what Harmonics do on television. What sort of training do you think they offer?" Coco asked.

"Well, there's lots of magic. There's usually a guest artist of some kind, another magician or something unusual. And there's some tying up and escaping or some other Houdininess."

"'Houdininess.' I like that," Hettie commented.

"So you're going to teach me tying up and escaping like on television?" Soo ventured.

"Not quite," Maggie replied. "That's mostly tricks."

"As well as their stage and television work, Maggie and Hettie have several sidelines," Coco explained. "They act as contractors on big jobs."

"Contractors?"

"Experts," Coco explained. "If you know you need to open a safe, you need someone good with locks and alarms on the team, or an explosives technician to blow it open. And if you need to tie a lot of people up, you can't do better than Maggie and Hettie."

"You're so well known, isn't it a huge risk of your being recognised?" Soo asked.

"If we wear balaclavas and something loose so our boobs don't show, we’re so tall most people assume we're blokes – just as long as we're careful not to speak," Hettie replied.

“At any rate,” Maggie said, “Hiding in plain sight is a good thing to do. Auntie Coco taught us that.”

"Maggie and Hettie also offer training courses," Coco continued.

"We get hired to do tutorial evenings by... let's say... specialist clubs," Maggie explained.

"'Specialist', as in black leather and whips and things?" Soo asked, fascinated.

"Sometimes," Hettie replied, "but there are a lot of surprisingly ordinary people who like tying each other up for pleasure too."

"We also do tutorials for people like you," Maggie added.

"Apprentice burglars, like me?"

"Exactly."

"She's actually quite good already," Coco said, "but she needs to be a bit better."

"I've surprised Coco a few times by getting loose when she thought I wouldn't be able to," Soo explained, "but I'm not so good at tying up. I've tried a few times on Coco, but she's got loose within ten minutes every time."

"That's not bad, you know," Hettie pointed out. "Aunt Coco is a pretty good escape artist..."

"...but so might be the first person you tie up on an actual job," Maggie added.

"That's what Coco said too," Soo acknowledged.

"What shall we take as a passing standard?" Maggie asked Coco.

"I think if she can keep me tied to a chair for an hour, that will be good enough to be going on with."

"Well, Soo, that's your target..." Hettie said.

"...let's see if we can get you there by the end of today," her sister added.

"I'll leave you to it then," Coco said, gathering up the coffee things and taking them back to the kitchen.

***

A few minutes later, the sitting room furniture had been pushed back to make some room to work and the Harman twins had taken off their matching pink suits to reveal that the white tops they were apparently wearing were actually long-sleeved white leotards worn over their translucent white tights. Soo felt slightly overawed at the women's smoothly-muscled bodies and dauntingly professional appearance.

"Perhaps I should wear something with sleeves if I'm going to be tied up," Soo suggested.

"No need at all," one of the twins replied briskly.

"You're going to be doing the tying up today, so if you're comfortable as you are, that's all that matters," her sister continued.

"I feel a little underdressed, but that's all," Soo replied with a grin.

"Good, so let's see what you can do. Start by tying Maggie's wrists behind her back."

Hettie unzipped the holdall the twins had brought with them and handed a small bundle of rope to Soo.

Feeling terribly self-conscious, Soo wound the rope around Maggie's wrists and formed a neat cinch, knotting the rope where she hoped it would be out of reach of the woman's fingers.

"That looks pretty good," Hettie said approvingly.

"Not too tight and only just slightly too loose," Maggie confirmed, twisting her wrists and pulling free from the binding with apparent ease.

Soo's face fell.

"Don't be too discouraged by that," Maggie told her as she untangled the rope. "That really wasn't bad and we've both had a lot of practice at escaping."

"That's right," Hettie agreed, "we're setting a really high standard here and we're here to show you how to achieve it."

Soo repeated the exercise several times. Each time, Hettie explained how to gauge the perfect tension for the rope and how to make the knot secure and inaccessible. After a few tries, Soo's confidence grew as she saw the real difficulty Maggie was having in escaping from the binding.

As the morning progressed, the twins showed Soo a range of approaches for tying wrists, ankles and other parts of a victim's body. They took turns being the subjects of Soo's practice and she learned to choose the best technique to use in different situation and to apply it efficiently. They coached her in a small range of knots and showed her how to make them quickly and flawlessly every time.

***

By one o'clock, Soo's fingers were becoming stiff and clumsy with all the rope she had handled and the knots she had tied and untied.

“Lunchtime, ladies,” Coco announced entering the room carrying a tray of sandwiches. Some rather fine cakes and a fresh pot of coffee followed.

The four women sat chatting together, but Soo felt herself a little excluded as the conversation drifted onto reminiscences of people well known to Coco and the Harman twins but a complete mystery to her. She found herself visually comparing Maggie and Hettie Harman trying to work out if there was a way to distinguish between them reliably. As she was doing this, one of the twins caught her eye.

“I’m sorry, it was rude of me to stare, but I think you’re the most identical pair of twins I’ve ever seen.”

“There are a few differences, but we’ve always enjoyed looking the same,” one of them replied.

“How do people tell you apart?” Soo asked.

“They don’t always...” one twin replied.

“...we’ve even managed to fool our mother sometimes,” her sister added.

“And there was that boyfriend, you both tried out,” Coco prompted.

“Not my finest moment,” one of the women confessed. “You tell the story, Maggie.”

“We were still at school then,” Maggie began, “and there was this rather gorgeous boy. At least, I thought he was gorgeous at first. I went out with him a few times and discovered that although he looked like a prize catch, he was a complete twerp. I’d more or less decided to dump him...”

“...when I thought I’d like to have a go,” Hettie continued. “I don’t know how I thought I’d ever get away with it, but I decided to go on Maggie’s next date with him, pretending I was her. I didn’t know she’d almost given up on him, so I took a rather direct approach...”

“...and left me tied to my bed and gagged one Friday evening while she went out in my place.”

“When mum heard about what I’d done, she hit the roof and I spent the weekend tied to my bed and gagged to teach me a lesson.”

“Or that’s what mum thought,” Maggie said after a dramatic pause. “About mid-morning on the Saturday, I sneaked in and took Hettie’s gag off and untied her and we settled our differences with a hug like sisters should...”

“...then I tied her up in my place and we took turns for the rest of the weekend, and mum never guessed,” Hettie concluded.

“If your mum can’t tell the difference, then what chance do I have?” Soo commented, laughing at the anecdote.

“OK, back to work,” Coco said, starting to gather up the lunch things. “I’m paying Soo to do this, so she’d better put a solid afternoon’s work in,” she added with a grin.

“Yes, ma’am,” Soo replied with an equally broad grin and a mock salute.

***

The morning’s lessons for Soo had been the elements of tying up: the knots to use, the approaches to use to restrain different parts of the body and the necessary tricks of manipulating rope. In the afternoon, she learned to put it all together into complete tie-ups.

Once again, the Harman twins took turns with coaching Soo and being the subject of her efforts. under their expert tuition, she learned to tied them to chairs, to tie them standing up and lying down and to do more complex approaches of tying the whole body into different positions.

About four o’clock, Coco offered mugs of tea, which were gratefully accepted.

“I notice you’re both letting me untie you now instead of just escaping,” Soo ventured. “Does that mean I’m getting better.”

“I don’t think you’re quite at the point where we can’t escape at all, but it would certainly slow the lessons down if you had to wait for us to get free each time,” one of the twins replied.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re not doing really well,” her sister commented. “After all, we’re rather good at escaping. Even Coco would have to be pretty lucky to keep us tied up.”

“Is there anything you can’t escape from?” Soo asked.

“Well, if someone puts a pair of handcuffs on you and does it right, you’re stuck unless you can find a handy pair of bolt cutters.”

“And tape is difficult too,” the other twin chipped in. “If you can get a sharp edge to it, it will tear, but if not and somebody knew what they were doing when they taped you up, then you’re basically stuffed.”

“What’s the worst you’ve ever had, Coco?” Soo asked.

“The girls are right about handcuffs and tape, but I’ve been completely helpless with good old-fashioned rope more times than I care to admit.”

Soo suddenly pointed at one of the twins. “You’re?”

“I’m Hettie.”

“And you’re left handed. And you, Maggie,” she said, turning to the other twin, “you’re right handed.”

“She’s very good!” Maggie commented as an aside to Coco.

“We do our best to hide it and most people never notice,” Hettie added. “We’re actually proper mirror twins.”

“‘Proper mirror twins’ as in inside too?”

“Inside too,” Hettie confirmed. “You can tell us apart with a stethoscope: my heart is on the right and liver on the left, the full works. They call it situs inversus.

“Now I’ve spotted the handedness, you’ll both be doing your best to confuse me, won’t you?”

The twins just grinned back in reply.

“We can chat and socialise later; right now, there’s work to do,” Coco pointed out. “What time do you want Soo to try tying me up for her test?”

“Are we taking Maggie and Hettie out for a meal afterwards?” Soo asked.

The general consensus was that it would be a pleasant way to relax the end of the day.

“Let’s work backwards from that,” Soo suggested. “If we go out at seven, we will all want to shower and probably change before then, so we need to finish about six thirty at the latest. That means I need to have you tied up by five thirty, so starting at quarter past five. I want to do a complete practice run on one of the Harmans before that, so allow half an hour for tying and untying, say quarter to five to start. It’s just gone half past four now, so I think it all works out.”

“OK, I’ll get my work finished off and be here ready at five fifteen,” Coco confirmed.

***

Maggie volunteered to be the test subject for Soo’s practice run. Both twins watched in silence while Soo methodically bound Maggie to an upright wooden chair from Coco’s kitchen. Soo was surprised at how little stress she felt under despite the scrutiny. Many of the principles she was applying were ones that Coco had already taught her and she was able to work with confidence now that the Harmans had reinforced that with detailed technical coaching.

About ten minutes later, Soo announced that she had finished. Both twins offered some minor suggestions for improvements but both pronounced themselves satisfied with Soo’s performance.

Soo and Hettie quickly freed Maggie and tidied up the ropes ready for Coco’s return.

When Coco reappeared, she was dressed from neck to toe in black. She wore a tight roll-necked sweater with a pair of fingerless gloved pulled up over the ends of the sleeves, a pair of thick leggings tucked into a pair of heavy socks.

“Not very flattering, when you’re my shape, but practical,” Coco commented. “You two might be happy with rope on bare wrists, but I want at least a bit of protection,” she added to the Harman twins.

Coco sat down on the chair and Soo set to work. She started by taking Coco’s arms behind her back and crossing her wrists. She lashed them together with several turns of rope horizontally then vertically and finished with a couple of turns between the wrists to lock everything together, just as a Girl Guide might lash two poles together, She carefully left two short tails of rope loose.

Soo wound several turns of rope around Coco’s waist and the back of the chair next, securing with a knot at the front but leaving two long tails of rope dangling over the front of the chair. Soo returned to Coco’s wrist binding and tied the loose ends around the band of rope running across the back of the chair. She took the two long lengths left over from the waist rope and drew them back and down, hitching them around the tops of the back legs of the chair. There was still rope left over after this, so she brought the ends to Coco’s wrist binding and fastened them to the loops of rope that attached it to the waist rope.

Soo selected a very long length of rope next, found the centre and folded it in half. She hitched the centre fold to the left hand end of the top rail of the chair then brought the doubled rope forwards over Coco’s left shoulder and diagonally across her body to the right hand vertical of the chair back. She looped the rope around the vertical and brought it, still doubled down to the waist rope where she formed a simple hitch before bringing the rope across and up to the left hand vertical of the chair back then on the opposite diagonal to the first one across her chest and over her right shoulder, making the end fast to the top rail of the chair.

Soo used two shorter lengths of rope to lash Coco’s upper arms to the verticals at either side of the chair back. She stood back and checked her work so far before adding a coil of rope around Coco’s arms and chest above her elbows and below her bust. She ensured it was fastened to the shoulder ropes where they crossed in the middle of Coco’s chest and to the woodwork of the chair at the back.

Satisfied with the security of the upper half of Coco’s body, Soo turned her attention to the legs. She lashed Coco’s legs together at the ankles and knees, in each case cinching the binding firmly and leaving trailing ends of rope. She took the excess rope from the knee binding out to the tops of the front legs of the chair where she fastened them off. She fed the much longer tails from the ankle binding back under the chair and up to the substantial bundle of rope between Coco’s wrist binding and waist rope, where she made them secure, pulling Coco’s feet back under the chair and off the floor in the process.

“I’m going to gag her to keep her teeth off the ropes rather than for silence,” Soo explained to the Harmans. She folded a thick scarf in half lengthways and worked it in between Coco’s teeth before knotting the ends securely behind her head.

Soo carried out a brief final inspection of the knots, making a few adjustments as she did so.

“That’s me done.”

“Just over seven minutes,” Maggie announced. “That’s a bit quicker than you thought you’d be.”

Soo joined the Harmans who were sitting on a sofa where they had been watching Soo at work.

Coco started a methodical exploration with her finger tips but rapidly discovered that there were no knots within reach. She tried to find some usable slack in her bindings and to see if anything yielded to simple brute force. There was the odd creak of protest from the chair, but Coco seemed not to be finding anything to exploit.

After ten minutes of this, Hettie remarked, “I think you’ve got her, Soo. If she’s not made any progress by this stage, I think she’s well and truly stuck.”

“We still need to let Coco sit out the full hour,” Maggie reminded her. “After all, that’s what she stipulated herself.”

“If nothing interesting is going to happen, I think it’s time I had a shower and got changed,” Soo said as she stood up.

***

When Soo returned, she was dressed ready for the evening in a pair of black knee-length shorts over black tights with a paisley patterned purple blouse and a black suit jacket. A pair of lace-up black ankle boots with blocky heels gave an extra couple of inches of stature.

Coco was more or less as Soo had left her but seemed to have slumped slightly in her bonds.

“Are you all right, Coco?” Soo asked.

Coco just nodded in reply.

“She’s still got twenty minutes to go,” Maggie commented. “If we’re quick, we can get cleaned up and change in that time.”

The Harman twins left the room while Soo resumed her seat on the sofa just watching Coco.

***

Soo was counting down the last few seconds before releasing Coco when the Harmans returned. They were both wearing their matching pink suits once again, but with white blouses and tan stockings this time. The canvas shoes had been replaced with pink high heels that matched the suits and added a good three inches to the twins’ already impressive height.

“I’m just about to turn her loose,” Soo said.

With three pairs of hands on the job, Coco was released from her bonds within two minutes.

“Bloody hell, girl, that was some tie-up,” she announced as soon as she could speak.

“I think we’ll call that a pass then,” Hettie commented with a grin.

Soo helped the Harmans tidy up the scatter of rope and return it to the holdall it had come out of while Coco went to freshen up and change.

***

Twenty minutes later, Coco returned to the room, now dressed in an ankle-length navy blue kaftan with gold batik decoration. She wore black patent leather shoes and as she walked, her peacock blue tights could be glimpsed.

“Right girls, there’s a table for four booked at Giuseppina's, let’s get going.” So saying, Coco flung a teal blue pashmina shawl around her shoulders and ushered everyone towards the door.

 

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