|by Van ©2016
came from old money and had inherited her fair share, as well as
one of the family's many "vacation homes." Situated on a
bluff above a lonely stretch of the Central California coast,
the "Beach Bungalow" had been built in the middle of the 20th
century and was solidly in the Modern school of rectilinear,
sparse, ornamentation-free architecture. Most people, when
presented with the floor plan, would say it easily qualified as
a mansion, and that included Grace's neighbors, the closest of
whom were slightly more than a mile away to the north or
south. The Bungalow was hardly a "bungalow."
However, from the outside it wasn't at all clear that it was
even a single building.
From any one of the few and difficult to reach vantage points
among the rocks and chaparral atop the bluff, all that was
visible were a few scattered and separated balconies, decks, and
concrete walls. The impression was of several small
structures tucked into the sere landscape, probably connected by
unseen walkways or trails. There was no visible main
structure. And given the surrounding native vegetation and
sandstone color of what one could see, one might be forgiven for
thinking they were seeing a cluster of bunkers or pillboxes,
perhaps abandoned and now refurbished coastal defenses from
WW-II. One would be mistaken.
The Beach Bungalow was, in fact, a single structure, and in
terms of square footage and accommodations it was, indeed, a
"mansion." Another word that might be appropriate was
"anthill." The Bungalow was a warren of mostly
subterranean rooms at several different levels. Its
lounges, sitting rooms, library, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen,
storerooms, etc., were all interconnected by stairs, open
walkways, and corridors, and some of the rooms had clever
interior balconies that afforded views of the public spaces
below. Subterranean, yes, but hardly a cave. During
the day, abundant light came from banks of picture windows
facing the ocean and skylights overhead. At night, there
was artfully designed direct and indirect lighting.
The decor was uniformly Modern, with walls of the same sandstone
color as the exterior, as well as warm, richly stained panels of
wood and banks of ceiling-to-floor mirrors. The
furnishings were the best-of-the-best from various designers,
and the art collection gracing the walls could only be described
as exquisite and obviously quite expensive.
In terms of amenities, outdoors there was a sunken spa and a
modest pool of the infinity variety. One could float in
the pool and enjoy the illusion that the cool waters stretched
to the Pacific horizon. There were also lounge chairs,
cafe tables and chairs, and a large barbecue for al fresco
cooking. Indoors, there was a fully-equipped home gym, a
large dry sauna, a yoga studio with a spectacular view of the
ocean, and a home theater with a vast projection screen and
comfortable easy chairs and sofas for seating.
Without a doubt, Grace lived in the proverbial lap of luxury and
wanted for nothing; however, she had augmented her inherited
wealth with lucrative royalties from more than twenty
bestselling novels. Grace was a famous writer, or rather,
she would be famous if she granted interviews, accepted
invitations to appear on talk shows, or attended book
conventions. Book-signing tours were an inevitable,
necessary evil she participated in only under pressure from her
publisher, but Grace kept them to an absolute minimum. As
it was, Grace Scanlon was... semi-famous.
That said, Grace was anything but an antisocial loner. Her
dinner parties and weekend salons were attended by the
international crème de la crème of the literary,
artistic, entertainment, and scientific worlds—or rather, by a
select few of the crème de la crème. Grace was
intelligent, educated, well-spoken, and kind, but it was well
known that she was "eccentric" in some of her interests. A
few of her circle of friends were like-minded, but the rest
were, at best, tolerant. All said, Grace was an amazing
hostess and, more importantly, an amazing friend.
The eccentricities in question, Grace's recognized foibles,
revolved around "power-exchange" and "bondage." Both
elements could be detected in her writings, but as subtle themes
or devices. The evolution and interactions of her
characters' relationships sometimes involved rebellion against
or acceptance of dominance and submission. In terms of
bondage, the plot elements of her novels that involved
kidnappings or imprisonment were praised by reviewers for their
emotional and physical realism.
In terms of genre, Grace wrote mysteries, action-adventures,
science fiction stories, fantasies, all-of-the-above,
some-of-the-above, and each new book drove her publisher's
marketing department absolutely bonkers trying to
decide on the appropriate pigeonhole. The powers that be
at Barnes & Noble had long since decided to punt, stocking
her books in the "Literature" section.
In the Beach Bungalow, the only overtly public evidence of
either of Grace's eccentricities was in the Great Room. It
was the multi-storied heart of the mansion, with multiple
staircases leading up and down and overlooked by several
interior balconies. And in pride of place in the very
center, lit from above by a skylight and dedicated spotlights,
was a Maggie Kilborn sculpture: a life-size, nude, bronze maiden
kneeling with her hands behind her back and her head
bowed. Her features were concealed behind the flowing
curtain of her long, wavy bronze hair and her naked body was fit
and athletic, with full breasts, a wasp-thin waist, strong
thighs, and perfect feet. Also, her arms and torso were
bound with bronze rope in a reverse-prayer box-tie and her legs
and ankles in a frog-tie. Depicted with Kilborn's
characteristic realism, the bound beauty was helpless. The
uninitiated among Grace's guests might not know the accepted
jargon for the elements of her bondage, but all would agree that
she was totally helpless.
Yes, the Kilborn sculpture was, in a word, blatant, but many
internationally important museums had Kilborn sculptures in
their collections, and no one would argue that meant the
curators were "into bondage." Still, as an artistic
installation in a private home, the bronze might be
interpreted as some sort of... statement.
There were other "statements" throughout Grace's home, many, many
others, but all were exceedingly subtle, their true nature
made clear only when they were put to use. You see, in
addition to her writing, Grace was something of a
tinkerer. She had a large and expensively equipped "hobby
shop" in which she indulged her imagination, bringing elements
of her eccentric interests into the real world. More about
As for Grace, herself... she was 5' 3", in her forties, and was
beautiful—not classically beautiful, but
beautiful. Under some conditions one might characterize
her features as being rather plain. But then, she would
turn her head... and your breath would be taken away.
Grace was beautiful, and something of an enigma.
She was also fit and curvaceous. Her breasts weren't
especially large, but they were definitely there, especially
when she wore a sleeveless gown requiring a push-up bra.
Her skin was naturally fair and prone to freckles. Her
hair was currently medium length and dark- or honey-blond, but
some whispered that she was actually a redhead. Those of
her friends and guests that were lucky enough to join her in the
sauna knew that her neatly-trimmed pubic bush was reddish-brown,
possibly dark red. The lighting in the sauna made it
difficult to be sure. Grace Scanlon might very well be
a natural redhead.
Grace dressed well. She owned jeans, shorts, tank-tops,
and t-shirts, and often wore them while tinkering; however, more
often than not, one would find her relaxing at home in a
designer dress or skirt and blouse. It was a lifelong
At the moment, Grace had a guest, and that guest was also her
good friend and literary agent. Grace was in the kitchen,
putting the finishing touches on a selection of hors d'oeuvres
and mixing pear martinis. Preparations complete and
tray in hand, she returned to the lounge where she'd left her
guest... and smiled.
was Grace's agent, confidant, and friend. She'd taken over
the Grace Scanlon account soon after joining Grace's publisher,
replacing the author's previous agent, who had retired to Paris
at the end of a long and illustrious career. Charlotte had
shepherded Grace's last ten novels on their arduous journeys
from concept to the readers' hands, and had the rope-marks to
Actually, any marks Grace's ropes might have left on poor, long
suffering Charlotte's fair skin over the last few years had all
faded soon after her release from said ropes—Grace was far too
skilled and experienced a rigger for rope-marks to become
rope-burns or bruises—but playing the martyr was a part of
Charlotte's personal dynamic with her supremely talented,
beautiful, and eccentric Cash Cow, so occasionally bemoaning her
nonexistent rope-marks was to be expected. "Cash Cow" was
both an accurate description of Grace's value to her publisher,
Charlotte's employer, and an irreverent private
nickname Charlotte had imparted on Grace soon after they met.
Relationships between established authors and their agents and
editors can be famously complex, tempestuous, close, and/or
intimate, the stuff of literary legend. Grace and
Charlotte's relationship certainly fit that mold, but was light
on the complexity and tempestuousness and heavy on the closeness
and intimacy. From the outside, it might even appear to be
the typical Top/Bottom dynamic, but looks can deceive.
On occasion, Charlotte and Grace were lovers, but the
professional aspects of their partnership held sway.
Mutual affection? Yes. Soulmates? Not
exactly. However, it was clear, at least in private, who
was always in charge, and it wasn't Charlotte.
Case in point, at the moment Charlotte was naked, having
voluntarily removed her clothing upon arriving at the Bungalow
and allowing Grace to lock them in a cabinet near the main
entryway. She was also seated in a comfortable and stylish
sling chair in the Great Room, part of a conversation group not
far from the Kilborn sculpture of the bound maiden. The
chair had a curved, tubular frame of chromed steel. The
sling's unified back and seat was of rust-brown leather and was
thickly and comfortably padded. It was a solid, exquisite
example of the Modern style. However, it had been
"accessorized" by its owner.
The accessories in question, products of Grace's tinkering
hobby, were rubberized steel clamps that gripped the chair's
frame at strategic points and served to anchor various cuffs and
straps of black nylon webbing. The clamps could quickly
and easily be removed without a trace, but at the moment they
were very much in place, and so was Charlotte.
Wide nylon cuffs bound Charlotte's wrists to the chair's padded
armrests and her ankles to the base of the unpadded frame.
Narrower nylon straps encircled and tightly bound her
upper-arms, her chest, above and below her pert breasts, her
waist, and her thighs, just above her widely separated
knees. Charlotte was in a very unladylike pose,
and the snap-buckles securing the various cuffs and straps were
all well beyond the reach of her fluttering fingers.
Finally, a smooth, wide strip of Elastoplast tape sealed
Charlotte's lips and hugged most of her lower face.
Charlotte watched (meaning stared daggers) as
Grace entered the Great Room and placed her tray on a convenient
side-table. She then settled into a chair identical to
Charlotte's (but without added accessories), crossed her
nylon-clad legs, artfully arranged them to one side, and smiled.
So... Charlotte: naked, helplessly strapped in place, her
knees splayed and private parts on lewd display, and her lips
sealed. Grace, elegantly clothed in heels, nude pantyhose,
a somewhat short, thigh-hugging pencil skirt, a stylish, long
sleeve blouse, and very much not bound and
gagged. As mentioned earlier, between Grace and Charlotte,
it was always clear who was in charge, especially in
Charlotte continued to glare. Grace had taken her sweet
time preparing her precious hors d'oeuvres and drinks,
and Charlotte was near the end of her patience. The
chair's cuffs and straps, however, had infinite patience.
Grace continued smiling, picked up one of the two pear martinis
on the tray... took a delicate sip... then returned her amused
gaze to her guest.
Charlotte tugged on her wrist cuffs, testing the straps pinning
her torso in place (and thereby imparting an oscillating bob to
her bare breasts) then heaved a truly tragic, tape-gagged
sigh. Maybe a little display of her obvious helplessness
would move things along.
Or maybe not.
Grace returned her martini to the tray and gracefully
stood. "Silly me," she announced, "I forgot the
napkins." And with that, she turned and strolled back to
Charlotte, of course, had no choice but to let her hostess
depart... and to resume her comfortable, naked, bound, and
to the Great Room with the missing napkins—fine linen, ivory in
color. No paper napkins for Grace Scanlon, only the best
of the best, in accordance with her sophisticated and particular
Charlotte greeted her hostess with more eye-daggers and sullen,
Grace resumed her seat, leaned towards her guest, carefully and
delicately teased back a corner of Charlotte's tape-gag, then
slowly peeled the off-white strip from her face. As
always, the Elastoplast's strong, hypoallergenic adhesive surrendered its grip with
great reluctance and stretched Charlotte's lips and skin.
"Thirsty?" Grace purred, then held the second martini glass to
Charlotte's pouting lips.
Charlotte pursed her lips and took a delicate sip, but continued
her hostile stare. It was expected.
"You've gotten a haircut," Grace noted. "You promised you
were going to let it grow."
"I made no such promise," Charlotte huffed, shaking her head and
causing her closely cropped brown locks to flutter into place...
more or less. "You ordered me to let it grow, and I've
decided to ignore you. I like my hair short."
Grace smiled. "You look better with long hair."
Charlotte saw an opening to move the discussion to the purpose
of her visit and she took it. "June Kempe has long
hair," she said with a smile.
Grace heaved a sigh, then picked up a touchscreen remote from
the side-table. "Yes, she does." She tapped and slid
her way through the remote's menus... then made a final tap.
Across the Great Room,
a mirrored panel slid upwards, revealing a titanic flat-screen
TV. The overhead lights dimmed and the image of a
stunningly beautiful woman appeared, and she was stunning.
She was also dressed in a revealing and unusual outfit that
might have been some sort of costume: black leather and lace
elbow gloves, halter-top bustier (with a pointed, decorative
collar), and decidedly low-slung pants. She was showing
significant cleavage, smooth shoulders, strong upper-arms, and a
slender, bare midriff. Her features were rounded and
somewhat girlish, and her wavy hair was long and lustrously
"You expect me to let such a ridiculous creature into
my home so I can teach her how to write?" Grace chuckled.
"June is not a ridiculous creature," Charlotte countered.
Grace's response was
another tap of the remote, causing a second image to appear
beside the first. It was the same woman, June Kemp, and
this time her outfit was even more abbreviated and was clearly a
costume. There was a full-length, sky-blue cape lined in
gold satin with a layered, pointed collar, a matching brassiere,
a loincloth with a front panel of white linen embroidered with a
vertical blue and gold stripe, sky-blue arm bracers, and
sky-blue knee boots. A staff topped by a blue crystal
completed the ensemble.
"That's not ridiculous, either," Charlotte huffed. "It's
cosplay. Something to do with Final Fantasy."
She noticed Grace's amused but uncomprehending expression, and
elaborated. "Final Fantasy? The very
popular video game series?"
Grace shrugged, still smiling. "If you say so, dear.
And correct me if I'm wrong, but to 'cosplay' is to dress up as
a favorite video game, TV, or movie character?"
"Also anime," Charlotte confirmed, "and it's not ridiculous.
Thousands of fans do it at comic book conventions, movie
screenings, and..." Grace had tapped the remote a third
time, a third image joined the first two, and Charlotte heaved a
sigh. "Okay, the ears on that one are a tad
In the third image
June's costume was similar to the second in that it was just as
revealing, but there was no staff or cape and the predominant
colors were red and black. The ears in question were
rust-red with black tips, in the manner of a fox, and were
furry, pointed, and protruded from June's hair as if from the
back of her head.
"A tad ridiculous?" Grace purred. "And the 'Final
Fantasy' princess or sorceress is not? Is that one
also from a video game?"
"Uh... I believe it's also from Final Fantasy,"
Charlotte answered. "I assume the ears are necessary to
the character... whoever or whatever she might be."
Grace was still smiling, but was also slowly shaking her
head. "A grown woman that plays dress-up," she intoned.
"I assume you read the drafts I sent you," Charlotte said.
Grace gazed at the images for a few seconds before
answering. "She has a good grasp of description and
character development and is a more than competent writer.
A few rough edges, but nothing that can't be fixed. Her
main problem is focus. Her plots are scattered and
difficult to follow. And as for her choice of material..."
"I get it," Charlotte sighed. "You don't do video games,
which means you don't get the references and jargon."
"And neither will all but a niche audience of potential
readers," Grace noted.
"Yes, a niche audience numbering in the tens of millions,"
Charlotte countered in a perfectly deadpan manner, "but I can
see how it all might leave you a little confused...
Grace smiled at her naked, chair-bound guest. "Okay, as a
favor to my marginally adequate agent who is still struggling
with the concept of tact... I'll meet with her. But I
promise nothing else."
Charlotte grinned in relief. "Good. I know the
perfect place and I'll set the whole thing up.
Uh..." Her smile faded as she watched Grace open a drawer
in the side-table and pull out a ball-gag with a black leather
strap and a two-inch spherical mouth-plug of white silicon
rubber. "What about the hors d'oeuvres?" she asked
as Grace rose from her chair and stepped behind her chair.
"I'm sure 'grandma' will enjoy them immensely as she prepares
for bed and reads a chapter or two of Gail Carriger's new
novel." Grace purred, then popped the white ball into
Charlotte's compliant but unenthusiastic mouth and tightened and
secured the strap's buckle at the nape of her neck. "I
suppose a boyish bob does have its conveniences," Grace conceded
as she strolled to the side-table and picked up the tray, "like
not getting in the way while one buckles a gag, but I still
prefer the way long hair frames your face. Until later,
Her mouth filled more or less to capacity with silicon rubber
and the ball-gag's strap buckled tight enough to make her cheeks
bulge, Charlotte heaved a sigh as Grace climbed the stairs
towards her bedroom, taking with her what had looked to be a very
tasty array of comestibles and two barely sampled pear
martinis... and then was gone.
The three images of the cosplaying June Kemp remained on the
screen across the semi-darkened room. Charlotte knew her
hostess would reappear... eventually... probably with coils of
rope, a leather arm-binder, steel handcuffs, or some other means
of keeping her under control as she took her upstairs to share
her bed... eventually.
Charlotte heaved another gagged sigh and focused on June's
scantily clad, colorful images. I hope you appreciate
what I go through for your professional development, she
mentally addressed the absent June. If things develop
as I hope they will, I know you'll feel
the place could be pigeonholed as a "fern bar," a bistro with
hanging plants, dark wood paneling, understated elegance, and
upscale clientele—not the sort of place frequented by June Kemp
and her friends—not that June did a lot of sitting and drinking
at all. A few beers at one of the group's favorite
burger or pizza joints? Yeah, sure. Sitting and
drinking on a bar stool? No.
June was standing just inside the door and scanning the room for
Grace Scanlon... who she desperately hoped she would be able to
recognize from her pictures on the dust jackets and paperback
covers of her various books, all of which June owned.
At the urging of her agent, Charlotte Roth (her would be agent
if June ever produced a draft Charlotte could get past her
bosses), June was wearing her best outfit: open-toed heels,
jeans (without stains, holes, or tears), a satin tank-top, and a
really smart cotton jacket, all in black. Okay, she was
black-on-black-on-black, but June was way too athletic
and had way too healthy a tan to be mistaken for a
goth, emo, or artsy-type.
June was nervous. After all, she was about to meet one of
the world's great living authors (in June's enthusiastically
sincere opinion, anyway.) And then, she saw her—sitting at
the bar—and she could only be her—and June's heart began to trip
like the proverbial hammer—and she began sweating into the
armpit liners of her jacket.
Grace was stunning. She was dressed in a narrow,
thigh-hugging skirt and a long sleeve blouse, both probably by
some famous designer. Her medium-length, honey-blond hair
framed her beautiful face and she was—stunning! And
she was looking directly at June!
June blushed, willed herself not to blush
(unsuccessfully), and hurried towards the bar... but in a casual
manner... a very casual manner. She smiled and
offered her hand. "Hi, I'm June," she gushed. "I'm so
pleased to meet you."
"I'm pleased to meet you, June," Grace purred.
"Charlotte has told me so much about you."
"I've read your books!" June blurted. Her heart was still
hammering. "I mean, I've read them... and I like them...
"Thank you," Grace purred.
Geesh! Get a grip, you pathetic dweeb, June chided
herself. Grace had a strong grip, not a manly grip,
of course—nothing about Grace Scanlon was manly—but strong.
Grace released June's hand and indicated the neighboring bar
stool with a graceful gesture. "Please, join me."
June settled her black denim-clad rump on the stool indicated
and continued to smile—but not like a empty-headed
idiot, she desperately hoped. The bartender came over and
June ordered a Sam Adams Boston Lager, always a safe
choice. Grace was still nursing some sort of greenish
cocktail with a lime garnish and didn't need service. June
sipped her beer and smiled.
"I've also read your stories and draft novel," Grace
said with a smile, "courtesy of Charlotte. You show great
promise, June. May I call you June?"
"Of course!" June blurted, then felt her cheeks burn with a
renewed blush. 'Great promise!' She likes
my stuff! "Thanks," June added, then took another
sip of beer.
"You're welcome," Grace chuckled, "and please, call me Grace."
"Okay, uh, Grace," June responded (still blushing).
"Now," Grace continued, "Charlotte thinks I should become your
June couldn't think of anything clever to say, other than, "Uh,
yeah." She sipped her beer, again, hoping her hammering
heart and sudden shortness of breath weren't the onset of some
sort of stroke.
Grace's smile turned coy. "I know her desire for me to
nurture your talent is genuine, but I'm afraid her real motive
might be nudging me past what she insists is my current writer's
June was instantly all sympathy. "Ooooh! You're
blocked? I hate it when that happens!"
Grace chuckled and sipped her cocktail. "Actually,
Charlotte is mistaken. I have several projects in
development, but can't decide which one should take
precedence. Rather than being blocked, I have a modest
embarrassment of creative riches."
"I can believe that," June chuckled, then blushed, yet
again. Dweeb! "Please, continue."
"I admit there has been a lull in my output," Grace
purred, "causing a commensurate lull between Charlotte's bonus
checks. Hence, her concern." Her smile
broadened. "I joke, of course."
"Of course," June nodded. Grace Scanlon was...
amazing. She was incredibly attractive, almost a
force of nature. The word is 'charisma,' dweeb,
June reminded herself. Anyway, June felt herself drawn to
Grace like the proverbial bee to honey, moth to a flame, or—she
desperately hoped—protege to her mentor. "I, uh, I'll try
not to be too much trouble," she pressed forward, "when you
mentor me, I mean. I'll meet with you wherever and
whenever you want and..." She noticed that Grace's smile
had taken on a wry twist.
"I haven't actually agreed to be your mentor, June,"
Grace said quietly.
June's brown eye's popped wide. "Oh!" She felt her
cheeks all but burst into flame. "I-I'm sorry, uh,
Grace laughed (and she had a charming laugh, June noted).
"No, I apologize." Grace took a sip from her
drink. "Of course I'll mentor you," she continued.
"Oh, thank you!" June blurted. She almost leaped
from her stool to plant a kiss on her soon-to-be mentor, but
stopped herself in time. Thank god!
"That said," Grace said, "there will be no 'meetings.' If
I'm to be your mentor, you'll be moving into my home for the
"Uh, okay," June said. "You sure you have room? I
don't want to be any trouble."
Grace smiled and sipped her drink. "I'm sure I can find
space to squeeze you in," Grace purred. "Also, this will
be a mentoring and a collaboration. There is no
substitute for proper research, as I'm sure you know, but I've
found practical research to be indispensable. If
I'm to be your mentor, you must agree to help me with my research
and follow all orders and instructions. I think you'll
find my research exercises to be valuable, as well. A
breadth of practical knowledge is invaluable to a writer."
"I'm not sure I understand," June said quietly.
"You will," Grace chuckled, than gave June's hand a reassuring
A thrill raced up June's arm and down her spine. Grace's
touch had been electric—not literally, of course. There
had been no static discharge, but June found herself reacting as
to a kiss from a lover, something with which June had her share
of familiarity. "Uh..." (June made a mental note to
stop saying "Uh.") "I mean, okay, but... what does
"Nothing sinister," Grace purred, "I assure you. I
would never do anything to harm my protege."
"Okay," June said (proud of herself for not responding "Uh,
"I'll have Charlotte drive you out to my bungalow," Grace said,
"after you have a chance to make arrangements. Now...
let's talk and get to know each other."
"Uh, sure." June responded. Dweeb! Idiot!
Stop saying 'Uh!'
Grace signaled the bartender and he began preparing another
drink for June's new mentor.
several days for June to get her act together—not that she
dragged her feet and not that there was any external pressure to
hurry things along. It just took time to put her life on
hold, and that was with Charlotte's help making the
arrangements. Organized and efficient, like always, June's
agent-wannabe had even e-mailed her a checklist. Anal
retentive much? was June's initial reaction, but soon she
was grateful for the advice. Charlotte seemed to have
thought of everything, and eventually all preparations for June
to move into the "Beach Bungalow" were accomplished.
The appointed hour arrived and June's phone chimed, right on
time. "Hey, Charlotte," June answered.
"I'm out in front," Charlotte answered. "Why aren't you
"I am ready," June chuckled. "I just don't like
standing around in the street. I'll be right down."
She hung up before Charlotte could make a snappy answer, then
shouldered her laptop bag, extended the handle of her suitcase,
took one last look around... and exited her apartment.
Charlotte was waiting in front of the building, as promised,
beside a black Lexus town car. She was dressed as usual
during business hours: heels, pantyhose, skirt, blouse, and
jacket, all in shades of gray. "About time," Charlotte
said by way of greeting as she opened the trunk.
"And hello to you too," June laughed. She was
wearing sneakers, jeans, and two tank-tops, a black tank-top
underneath, and over that, a heather-gray tank-top with
Kitty's grumpy penguin friend) emblazoned on the front.
She also had a tan suede jacket, but was carrying it draped over
her laptop case. "What's your problem? It's not like
"I want to be on the interstate and well out of town before rush
hour starts," Charlotte explained.
"Nice ride, by the way," June said as she placed her suitcase
and laptop in the trunk and Charlotte closed the lid.
"It's one of Grace's," Charlotte explained as she climbed behind
June tossed her jacket in the back seat, settled into the
passenger seat, and reached for her shoulder belt.
"Wait!" Charlotte ordered. "Checklist."
June smiled and rolled her eyes. "Rent is prepaid with two
postdated checks. Utilities are on vacation hold,
including cable, and my landlord knows you'll be collecting my
mail, at least once a week." She reached into her jeans
pocket and produced a pair of keys. "Here are copies of
the keys to the street door, my mailbox, and my apartment
door." She handed the keys to Charlotte. "I have
copies of all my journals and work files on my laptop and/or
Charlotte pocketed the keys. "Okay. Now... Grace
told you she likes to perform practical exercises, right?"
June nodded. "Research."
"Well..." She opened the compartment in the console
between the two seats and pulled out a pair of chrome-steel
handcuffs. "You've just been kidnapped. You're to
keep track of your feelings and reactions to the experience of
physical helplessness, loss of control, uncertainty, etc."
June stared at the handcuffs. "Kidnapped?"
Charlotte extended her hand, offering the cuffs to June.
"Put these on your ankles. They should be the right size."
June made no move to accept the handcuffs... which apparently
were anklecuffs. "Uh..."
Charlotte rolled her eyes. "Did you or did you not tell
me that you used to let your little brother and his friends tie
you up when you were supposedly watching them for your parents?"
"When did I tell you that?" June asked, still mesmerized by the
shiny bright cuffs.
"That night we got drunk and I had to take a cab home?"
"I was not drunk," June countered, "only... buzzed. You
"But you did confess that you were a terrible
babysitter," Charlotte chuckled, tossing the cuffs onto June's
denim-clad lap. "Tight, but not too tight."
"Babysitters get paid," June noted. "I was watching the
munchkin and his friends 'cause I had to."
Charlotte smiled. "You don't want me to have to tell Grace
you chickened out on the very first exercise, do you?"
"No," June sighed... then picked up the cuffs, leaned down, and
closed them around her ankles. The ratchets clicked as the
cuffs tightened. She followed instructions, making sure
they weren't too tight, but this was her first experience with
steel restraints. The individual cuffs were joined by
about twelve inches of nested links, so she'd be able to take
short steps if she "made a break for it" once they exited the
car, but it would be a somewhat slow motion escape
attempt. "You have the key, right?" she asked her
kidnapper (somewhat belatedly).
"Oh!" Charlotte said in wide-eyed, mock surprise, "I knew I'd
forgotten something." Her smile returned.
"Of course I have the key, doofus." She reached back into
the console compartment and pulled out a second pair of chrome
handcuffs, but this pair were of the hinged variety, without a
connecting chain. "Turn around and put your hands behind
June's eyes were wide, again. "Uh..."
Charlotte smiled. "Don't make me summon my brutish
henchmen," she purred.
June rolled her eyes, again. Then... she heaved a sigh and
followed Charlotte's orders, twisting at the waist away from her
kidnapper and placing her hands behind her back. The cuffs
closed with more ratcheting clicks, and the deed was done.
June turned hack to the front and Charlotte fastened her
lap-belt, pinning her in the bucket seat, the strong nylon belt
stretching diagonally down from her right shoulder and across
June assumed she was as kidnapped as she was going to get, but
she was wrong.
Charlotte produced a pair of wire framed aviator shades with
leather side-shields and an attached safety cord.
June frowned. "I don't really need... Oh!" Charlotte
had placed the glasses over June's eyes, carefully positioning
the frame's wire loops behind her ears, and was tightening the
safety cord's barrel-clamp. The glasses had a hitherto
unsuspected feature. The lens exteriors were coated with a
bluish, reflective coating, but the interiors were also coated,
and that coating was black and opaque. The sunglasses
weren't sunglasses at all, but a cleverly disguised
blindfold! She felt Charlotte fussing with her hair,
pulling it free of the cord, re-tightening the barrel clamp,
then combing her long locks back into place with her fingers.
"There," Charlotte said. "Only one more thing. Two things,
There was a pause while Charlotte readied her final "thing,"
giving June a chance to assess her situation. Ankle cuffs
in place—check. Handcuffs in place—check. And as for
the sunglasses... June found she could see nothing. They
weren't totally lightproof, but their efficiency as a blindfold
was 100%. A tiny amount of light leaked past the
side-shields and from around the nose-pads, but not in a way
that would let her form a visual image of any part of the
And then... "Hey!" June complained. Charlotte was
placing earbuds in her ears. They effectively deadened
most outside noise, but June could still hear her captor's
"Now," Charlotte was saying, "the only thing missing is a gag,
but we'll forego that part of the exercise, in case you get
carsick. However, you're to consider yourself pretend
"I don't get carsick," June huffed.
"Hush," Charlotte chuckled. "Kidnap victims should be seen
and not heard. I
hope you like Classical music," she added as she
started the engine.
"Classical is okay," June said, "but I'd prefer Top 40."
"Too bad," Charlotte purred. "Grace specified
Classical. I think she wants to widen your horizons.
Now, no more talking."
June heard a quiet click, then music began playing through the
earbuds. It wasn't overly loud, but loud enough
to drown out all ambient noise. "Charlotte!" she whined in
complaint, and was silenced by an unseen finger pressing against
her pouting lips. The finger withdrew... and the car began
Cuffed at the ankles and wrists, belted in her comfortable seat,
blindfolded by a pair of expensive sunglasses, and with the March
Militaire Francaise of Saint-Saens' Suite Algerienne droning
in her ears, the "kidnapped" protege sped towards her waiting