“Who was the genius who suggested a team building day,” Karen said as she drove along the country road, “and while we’re about it – what the hell IS a team building day?”
“I think it’s one of those new-fangled things the boss picked up on his American visit,” Phoebe said as she smiled before looking out of the window. The office manager at Holbern Rickard Lorne had spent a year working for an American client, and on his return had brought some new working practices in for the ladies of the office pool. This was the latest of those ideas – he had told them all not to report to the office this morning, but to be at the address they had bene given for nine.
“I just hope we’re appropriately dressed,” Karen said as she turned onto a B road.
“He said office attire – so blame him and bill him if there is a problem,” Phoebe said as she looked at her colleague. Karen had ginger red hair cut into a bob, and was wearing a white V-necked sweater and a long checked skirt, a shawl of the same material as her skirt over her shoulders. As she changed gear in her car, she could hear the soft squeak of her long white leather boots.
The white sweater was of a similar style to the one Phoebe was wearing, but in her case she was wearing a long blue skirt that buttoned up the front, and light sand coloured boots in the same style as her older sisters. Her red hair was cut short, parted to the sides.
“Well – this looks like the place,” Karen said as she turned through a pair of gates, taking her car up a long tree-lined avenue before she pulled up in front of a three storey manor house. The two women got out of the car, Karen pulling her shawl over her shoulders as she said “what on earth are we going to do here?”
“Only one way to find out,” Phoebe said as the two women walked in, smiling as they saw the Senior Secretary sitting in a comfortable armchair, nursing a cup of coffee.
“You two made it then,” Dorothy said with a smile. She was also wearing the white V-necked sweater, paired in her case with a long grey tartan print skirt and high cream coloured leather boots. Like Karen, she also had a shawl of the same material as her skirt loosely tied over her shoulders, but unlike the sisters her hair was long and blonde.
“So what does our lord and master have lined up for today,” Karen said as she poured two cups of coffee from the jug, and handed one to Phoebe.
“I know about as much as you two,” Dorothy said as she played with her shawl. “I’ve only seen the staff here when they brought the coffee out.”
“Did someone say coffee?”
“Hey April,” Phoebe said as the Private Secretary to the head of the company came in. She had long auburn hair, and wore a green diagonally striped skirt and waistcoat loosely fastened in the front with a thin belt of the same material, the waistcoat over a black roll neck sweater, high black leather boots on her legs.
“Well, it looks a nice enough place,” April said as a young girl in a black mini dress came out and replaced the coffee pot, “what are we doing here?”
“You mean he didn’t tell you either?”
“Nope,” April said as she sipped the coffee in her cup. “I was hoping one of you or Erica might have an idea.”
“Where is Erica anyway,” Karen said as the young woman came back in, and said “will you all follow me please?”
“But we’re still expecting one more person,” Phoebe said as she looked round. The girl looked round, and said “no – I was told to expect four, and there are four of you here,” she said, “please, come with me.”
The four women looked at each other as they filed into a meeting room, taking a seat at the table as they saw the white screen at one end, and the projector at the other. The girl waited until they were seated before she closed the blinds over the windows, started the film projector, and then stepped outside.
“Okay,” Phoebe said quietly as they looked at the screen, expecting to see one of the directors of the company – and instead, they saw their colleague Erica on the screen. She was seated in an old wooden chair, looking at them – but not able to do much else for very good reasons.
Her arms went around the back of the chair she was sitting in, and the white rope bands around her chest were clearly visible over her outfit – a brown open necked dress with a winged collar, a striped tabard over that with a matching belt round her waist, and grey high boots. She had a beret perched on her short ash blonde hair, but she couldn’t talk – a thick white scarf was pulled between her lips, her teeth closed over it, while her legs were tied to the front legs of the chair.
“ERICA! What the Christ is going on,” Dorothy said as she stood up, only for a male voice, disguised, distorted, to say “sit down and listen. Your colleague is our captive, somewhere in this house. The goal of this exercise is simple – find her, and rescue her, without been caught yourself. If you are caught, you will be held captive such as your friend here. If you manage to free her, but any of you have been taken captive, you will need to free them yourself. Only when all five of you are free, and in this room, will you have succeeded. Should all five of you be taken, then a suitable denouement will take place.”
“You can’t do this,” Phoebe said, “let her go!”
“You have four hours – good luck,” the voice said as Erica called out to them – and then the film ended, Karen heading for the light switch and putting it on.
“Is this for real,” April said as she looked at the other three.
“Only one way to find out,” Dorothy said as she opened the door, “I’m going to find the girl who brought our coffee out, and see what she knows. You three wait here, don’t do anything until I get back.”
The other three looked at each other as Dorothy went into the hallway, looking round before she made her way through the door the coffee had come from earlier.
Walking down the corridor, she could hear some voices talking, and as she entered the kitchen she saw two cooks working there.
“Oh – is there anything I can do for you,” one of them said as she looked at Dorothy.
“I hope so – can you tell me where I can find whoever is in charge for today,” Dorothy asked as the other cook went into the storage room.
“I think he’s in the main office – is there a problem?”
“I’m not sure – we just saw a very disturbing film the girl who served coffee started for us.”
“Well, I am sorry to hear that, Dorothy,” the cook said as she smiled. Dorothy looked at her, and said “I didn’t tell you my name.”
“No – you didn’t,” she replied as a damp cloth was clamped over Dorothy’s nose and mouth, her eyes opening wide as she breathed in the fumes, her mind fogging quickly as the ether worked on her…
Karen and Phoebe looked at April, as she said “Dorothy should have been back by now – come on, we need to find out what’s happened. We’ll split up – take a floor each.”
“But what if they’re serious,” Phoebe said, “if we split up, we can be caught more easily.”
“On the other hand,” April said quietly, “we stand more chance of not been caught if we are not together. Question is, are we prepared to take the risk?”
The sisters looked at each other, and then nodded as April looked at her watch. “We meet back here in an hour – if you see anything, find each other. Agreed?”
Karen and Phoebe nodded as they left the room, Phoebe and April heading up the staircase as Karen went into a room across the hallway.
It was a library, with one wall lined floor to ceiling with rows of old leather clad books. She walked across the room and looked out of the window onto the well-manicured lawns, before she turned and looked along the shelves, taking one book down and looking at it.
“The Rose Villa – this is the guy who wrote the Four Feathers, isn’t it,” she said as she flipped through the pages, and read some of the text. “Bit of a different story though,” she said as she put the book back – and then heard a soft click.
“Oh come on – you have got to be kidding me,” she said to herself as a panel swung slightly open, before she walked over and peered inside. A set of stairs was going up, but there was no light after the first turn.
Looking round, she saw a torch sitting on the table, and picked it up. “Convenient,” she said to herself as she switched it on, and slowly started to climb the stairs, not noticing the panel as it swung closed behind her…
“You check this floor,” April said to Phoebe as they got to the first floor landing, “I’ll move up.”
The redhead nodded as she watched her colleague climb up the next set of stairs, and then walked along, opening doors and looking in each one, but only seeing bedrooms or toilets.
One bedroom in particular caught her eye, as she walked in and looked around. It was decorated in a Tudor style, with a large four poster bed by the main wall, curtains hanging loosely at the sides.
“Oh my,” she said as she walked over and sat on the mattress, “this is a lovely bed. I wonder what it would be like to lie on it.”
“You’re going to find out.”
Phoebe looked up at the male voice, and saw a man standing there, wearing a smart suit, white shirt, tie – and a gun in his gloved hand as he said “it never fails – the distraction of a wonderful room. Put your hands behind your back.”
“Just do it,” he said quietly, Phoebe nodding as she complied and she felt someone grab her wrists, crossing them before she felt the rope as they were tightly bound together. She then gasped as more rope was passed round her body, pulling her arms into her sides as it stretched her jumper over her chest, the bands forming above and below as the man smiled and watched.
“Who are you? Where’s Erica?”
Phoebe’s eyes shot open as a wide strip of brown sticking plaster was pressed down over her mouth, and she watched the man kneel down, taking more rope from his partner and starting to bind her ankles tightly together.
Dorothy screamed out again, banging the heels of her boots onto the wooden floor in frustration as she looked round the dark room. She was sat in a wooden chair, her arms taken around the chair back, her wrists secured together and then tied to the central spar of the chair back itself.
A long length of rope had been wrapped round her upper body as well, forcing her to sit upright as her chest was framed by the bands of rope. She could feel the upper band rubbing on her chest, an irritation she could do without.
Her ankles were tightly secured together as well – she could just make out the dark brown band around and between her legs over the cream leather – and they had folded back her skirt to secure her legs together below her knees.
That, however, was not the worst indignity – nor was waking up to find herself in what she presumed was a cellar. Nope, the worst bit was her shawl, now sitting between her lips and teeth as a gag, soaking up her saliva as she called for help again, making her jaws ache and the fear rise…
April opened the door, and walked into what was obviously a fitness room – she could see the ballet bars against the mirrored wall, and some dumbbells on the side as well as rolled up mats. Walking over to them, she squatted down and picked one up, feeling the weight in her hand as she moved it up and down.
“Well, whoever lives or works here normally keeps fit,” she said to herself as she walked over, and lifted her foot up to the ballet bar, her skirt slipping down as she did so.
She then looked more closely at the mirror, and then back to the dumbbells.
“If I’m wrong about this, I’m out a month’s wages, but it might be worth it,” she said quietly as she walked back over, picked up the dumbbell and carried it across the room, then threw it at the mirror as hard as she could. She covered her face as the mirror shattered, shards of glass falling to the ground – but then looked at the room behind the glass.
“Hang on a minute,” she said as she stepped in, “that’s the chair Erica was filmed in – and that’s the film camera. But where the heck is Erica?”
The chair was empty, but there was a note folded and sitting on the wooden seat. April picked it up, and read the note, before she said “you have got to be…”
Karen slowly pushed open the panel, and stepped out of the passage into a corridor. There was a window high up, and she managed on tip-toes to be able to see the grounds outside the manor house.
“So I’m up in the attic or something,” she said quietly as she walked along the corridor – and then she heard the muffled calling and thumping. Coming to one door, she gripped the handle and walked in.
“Oh my god,” she said as she walked over, looking at the large grey patch in the checked shawl that sat between Dorothy’s lips, “they got you?”
She eased the cloth from her mouth, waiting as Dorothy coughed and gasped for air, before she said “yeah – the kitchen staff are all in this, whatever this is. Can you untie me?”
Karen walked round and looked at the knots, before she said “no way – did a sailor tie these or something?”
“No – a master butcher did.”
Karen suddenly stood up as she saw the chef standing in the doorway, carrying several lengths of rope and a gun, as she said “I guess you’re going to join your friend now – right after you put that gag back into her mouth.”
“You… you’d better do what he says,” Dorothy whispered as she opened her mouth, and Karen eased the shawl back in.
“Very nice – now use your shawl to keep yourself quiet, lady.”
“Oh my god,” Karen whispered as she took her shawl off her shoulders, rolled it up, and then pulled it between her teeth, biting down on it as she tied the band round her head, and then looked at the chef.
“Right lady – stand in front of that one there, and put your hands behind your back…”
Phoebe looked up as she lay on her side on the bed, her legs pulled back and the rope around her booted ankles secured to the bands around her chest. Her legs were also secured above her knees, her skirt trapped as the rope was tied round them, but right now she was looking at the woman standing in front of her.
“For the money,” Erica said as she adjusted the beret on her head, “what else? That and the fun of seeing all of you helpless. The men who are paying me to do this have plans for the offices – and they needed all of us out of the way while they executed those plans.
“Money speaks louder,” Erica said with a smile – and then her eyes opened wide as a damp cloth was pressed over her nose and mouth. As Phoebe watched, Erica’s eyes fluttered and closed, before she was lowered to the floor as April knelt with her.
“Can you hang on there for a few more minutes while I make sure this little bitch is secured,” she said as she looked at Phoebe, smiling as she nodded. There were several lengths of rope on the floor, and she grabbed one before rolling Erica onto her stomach, crossing her wrists behind her back and starting to bind them together.
“I found the room where they filmed her – and a note saying who was behind this. Did she say anything?”
“Yeah, that was about the size of it,” April said as she bound Erica’s ankles tightly together, and then secured her legs below her knees, before pulling her ankles back and tying them to her wrists. Standing up, she found the roll of brown sticking plaster and stuck a length over her mouth, before she stood up and walked over.
“That should hold her,” she said with a smile as she peeled the sticking plaster away from Phoebe’s mouth. “How long have you been here?”
“Not too long,” Phoebe said with a smile, “but you need to do something now.”
“And that is?”
“Tear a strip of that sticking plaster off, and stick it over your own mouth.”
April looked at Phoebe, before she said “what are you talking about? We have to get you out of here!”
“Oh I will,” Phoebe said as April suddenly felt a small disc pressing on her back, “but I have to tell you, there are actually two separate plans going on here. I have no doubt April was working with whoever captured me – but she wasn’t working with me.”
“We got the other two up in the attic Boss,” the chef said over April’s shoulder, “what happened to you?”
“Have you seen a smartly dressed man about the place?”
“I have,” the girl who had served coffee said as she came in, “I drugged him and locked him in the cellar.”
“Good work Mabel – now, April, do what I told you to do.”
“Who are you – you’re not Phoebe,” April said quietly, “you’re a damn good likeness, but you’re not her.”
Slowly, April tore a strip of the brown fabric free and pressed it over her mouth, before her wrists were taken behind her back and she felt the rope forcing them together.
“Once you have her bound,” Phoebe said as she was untied by Mabel, “get the other two into the van.”
“WHRRHTHKKNHSSSS,” Karen screamed as she and Dorothy were carried down the staircase. Dorothy had been released from the chair back, but her arms were now secured to her body with two bands of rope, in the same way as Karen – and both of them were over the shoulders of the chefs, kicking their bound legs up and down.
“Stop doing that and you’ll see,” the chef said as she smacked Karen’s bottom, and they were taken out of the manor house and into a van at the back. As Karen was turned round, she looked over and said “PHHEBHHHH!”
“Hmghddsssss,” Phoebe said as she struggled in the ropes holding her captive. She was in a long white nightgown, and Karen could see the tear stains as she was placed next to her.
“Sorry for the deception, Karen,” the fake Phoebe said as she dropped April onto the van floor, then removed her red wig and the skull cap underneath, her light brown hair falling down, “we took your sister last night, gave me time to meet with you make sure you all got here.”
“WHRSSHRRECCCEEE,” Dorothy screamed out – and then she saw Mable carrying Erica over her shoulder, as she was placed on the floor as well.
“At any rate,” the brown haired woman said, “get comfy. You have a nice sea voyage ahead of you – and then a new life of pleasure. Have fun.”
The four women looked at each other as Erica groaned, the van doors slamming shut and leaving them in darkness as it moved off….