Van © 2020
Lady Jo Gladburn, Chief
Executive Officer of THE GLADBURN GROUP, commanded a financial
consortium with assets in the tens of billions and far-reaching
global influence. She was also charmingly petite, the
perfect blend of striking beauty and adorable cuteness, clever
and charismatic on camera, a generous philanthropist, well-liked
by the public, and not without friends at the Palace and
For those reasons, it was only natural that her sudden and
inexplicable disappearance sent shock waves through
global markets, caused an instant and somewhat hysterical clamor
in the press (especially the tabloids), and garnered the
immediate attention of Scotland Yard.
By all accounts, Lady Jo had left her ancestral home of Gladburn
Castle in Cumbria very early on a Monday morning,
ensconced in the back of a limousine driven by a company
chauffeur and accompanied by her longtime executive assistant,
Olivia Goodbody. It was Her Ladyship's usual routine,
commuting to The City to begin her workweek and returning to The
Castle the next Friday. Sometimes she did take
the company helicopter, but most of the time she traveled by
Anyway, on this particular occasion, somewhere between the Lake
District and London, her Rolls Royce Phantom simply... vanished.
At GLADBURN GROUP WORLD HEADQUARTERS near the top of 30 St. Mary
Ax (aka "The Gerkin Building," aka "The Crystal Phallus"), her
absence (and Olivia's) was noted almost immediately and an
in-house investigation initiated. It went nowhere.
By midday, GLADBURN's London Board had made the decision to
notify the police. The story leaked to the press shortly
thereafter, just in time for banner headlines in all the evening
editions above thoroughly researched stories chronicling all the
"known" details of Lady Jo's violent abduction, her unexpected
decision to enter a Buddhist nunnery, her clandestine elopement
with Daniel Radcliffe, and her secret three-way tryst with Harry
Scotland Yard's spokesman was quick to point out that at this
point very little was known about Lady Jo's whereabouts or
current status and requested the public's assistance.
The Dalai Lama's spokesperson refused comment.
Daniel Radcliffe was strangely silent.
A visibly exasperated Palace spokesperson denied any involvement
by the Royal Family and pointed out that the Duke and Duchess of
Sussex were happily married and the press should all just sod
off. (The elderly gentleman retired shortly
thereafter, supposedly to spend more time with his stamp
The Sun announced that there was credible evidence
aliens from Epsilon Eridani were responsible for Lady Jo's
disappearance, citing an anonymous and "highly credible" source
in the upper ranks of Royal Space Force Command who
categorically stated that she was being held captive in the
harem of the Galactic Lizard King aboard his orbiting space
palace somewhere in the Oort cloud.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defense pointed out that there
was no such bloody thing as "Royal Space Force Command."
The European Space Agency, NASA, Roscosmos, and China National
Space Administration refused comment (which The Sun
insisted was highly suspicious and clear evidence of an
international conspiracy to mislead the public).
Nothing happened for a week... two weeks... a month... six
And then, the burned-out shell of Lady Jo's Rolls was discovered
in the charred ruins of an abandoned hay barn near Spalding in
Linconshire (of all places).
This caused a new round of press reports (meaning a new round of
blatantly uninformed speculation).
The Sun pointed out that the Rolls' scorched condition
was exactly the sort of destruction that would have
been caused by the X-ray lasers of an Epsilon Eridani Star
Eventually, the case went cold, Scotland Yard more-or-less
admitted it was fresh out of leads, and the press lost interest.
There was at least one person, however, who did not lose
Effie Dennings was a
successful freelance investigative journalist and well respected
by all the important news outlets. That is, the proceeds
from her stories paid the rent on her crappy apartment with
enough left over for beer, and most editors returned her calls
or answered her e-mails (eventually).
A strapping 5' 1" in her bare feet, Effie was decidedly petite,
as cute as the proverbial bug with longish, gleaming brown hair,
a dimpled smile, and sparkling brown doe eyes that
opened doors, a valuable asset in her line of work.
Effie was also Canadian. She worked out of "The 6ix" (the
Greater Toronto Area), but thought nothing of following a story
to Ottawa, Montreal, The Big Apple, Beantown, Philly, The Windy
City, or wherever it led (even Moosejaw on one
And Effie Dennings never ever took no for an
answer! Okay, occasionally she found herself on the wrong
side of a slammed door and was forced to take no for an
answer, but she was nothing if not persistent.
The Lady Gladburn Disappearance was a HUGE hairy deal when it
first broke, and Effie decided she might as well look into
it. Of course, breaking open a story in the UK via phone
and internet from Canada was a daunting proposition, and even if
she could afford a trip to London she doubted she'd get
much further than the locals; however, she could and did
look into aspects of the story other than the law
enforcement angle, which seemed to be the exclusive focus of the
That's not to say the Lady Jo Mystery was the only thing
on Effie's plate. To mix metaphors, there were a lot fish
in the sea and she always had lots of irons in the fire.
She let Lady Jo's possible abduction simmer in the pot with
everything else and followed leads when and if they bubbled to
the surface. Effie was persistent and a
Leads, you say? What leads?
Effie wasn't a forensic accountant. Nor was she a business
reporter. However, she had a keen eye for patterns, and
while mining GLADBURN quarterly and annual reports, press
releases, and puff-pieces in the business news, she thought she
might have spotted something. And after three more months
of diligent labor (albeit sporadic diligent
labor), she decided she definitely had spotted
something! Probably. Maybe.
THE GLADBURN GROUP had
long been arch rivals with DRāGON GLOBAL ASSOCIATES, an American
consortium based out of New York and run by one Kyler
Drāgon. Both concerns were of similar size and scope, so
they were natural competitors; however, there were strong hints
that a degree of personal animus was involved.
By the way, the "long a" or "a with a macron" thing with respect
to Kyler's last name was a notorious affectation on her
part. It would seem she had a reputation for being
something of a blond bitch. None of the business press
would ever call her that in print, of course, but Effie could
read between the lines.
Anyway, GLADBURN and DāRAGON had been butting heads for as far
back as Effie cared to search the internet—right up to exactly
three days after Lady Jo's disappearance, when the two rivals
casually announced a joint venture to develop wind farms in
Argentina. Such an occurrence could be explained
by unusual economic/financial/political circumstances.
After all, bitter rivals have been known to swallow
their pride and cooperate before. Money was money.
However, as weeks turned into months... reports of cooperation
between the two "rivals" became more and more frequent.
Maybe it meant nothing, but Effie had learned a long time ago
that when you're unraveling a mystery, an event immediately
followed by a highly unusual event indicates a
lead! Sometimes. Now and then.
Effie reached out to GLADBURN's press office via e-mail,
requesting information not disclosed in their press
statements. She received a prompt reply and her questions
were answered. She asked for more information, and again,
her request was answered. And then, after her third request
for even more information (and much to her surprise),
Effie received a message from Eve Darlington, GLADBURN's Chief
Operating Officer (and acting CEO pending Lady Jo's hoped for
A correspondence developed, first by
e-mail, then by telephone, and finally by a series of
transatlantic video-chats on Skype.
"If you don't mind my saying so, I find GLADBURN's ever closer
relationship with DRāGON somewhat surprising. According to
everything I've read, there's no love lost between Lady Jo and
'The Dragon Lady,' and now you're practically partners."
[laughing]: "Partners is a bit of an exaggeration, but I get
your point. Our so-called rivalry with DRāGON has been
overblown. Jo's personal dislike of Kyler Drāgon was
well known, but we never let it get in the way of
business. A team was working on the Argentinian wind
farm venture for some months before Her Ladyship
disappeared. Off the record, Jo was opposed to the
project, but once I became acting CEO, the go or no go
decision became mine and I had to follow my best
judgement. The numbers were favorable, so I approved the
proposal and it went forward."
"And call me Effie!"
Effie blurted as her laptop screen went blank. It wasn't
clear if her parting words had been heard. Anyway, things
were looking up! She might be getting important answers to
the rest of her GLADBURN/DRāGON questions and find out what, if
any, light they shed on The Lady Jo Mystery. And straight
from the horse's mouth!
Effie: "And Her Ladyship wasn't there to stop it."
Eve [somewhat coolly]: "What exactly are you implying, Ms.
Effie: "Oh, hey, nothing. Sorry. I'm sure nothing
sinister was involved. The timing was just a
coincidence. What else could it be?"
Eve [her smile returning]: "Yes, I suppose it was 'just
a coincidence.' But now that you mention it, Kyler
Drāgon called me in person to suggest finalizing the
deal, and she was quite adamant, even though the arrangements
weren't particularly time critical. We could easily
have waited. Now that I think back on the incident,
it seems odd. Hmm. You've piqued my curiosity, Ms.
Dennings. Let me have my staff do a little research and
we can discuss the matter further. I'll be in the states
next week for my quarterly visit to our New York
offices. Is there any chance we can meet? I
understand Manhattan isn't terribly far from
Effie: "New York? No problem."
Eve: "Brilliant. We'll have lunch."
Effie: "I'd like that."
Eve: "Then it's a date. Once my schedule firms up I'll
have my secretary make the arrangements and ring you up.
Until then, Ms. Dennings. Goodbye."
Effie: "Sure thing. Goodbye, Ms. Darlington."
Eve: "Please, call me Eve."
received the call confirming the date, time, and location for
her luncheon "date" with Eve Darlington, she was stunned!
The Four Seasons! The luxurious, famous, five-star
hotel overlooking Central Park! And not in the lounge or
restaurant, but in Eve Darlington's hotel room! Wow!
This called for Effie's finest!. Actually, almost all
the business clothing she owned were variations on a single
theme: black pants and black jacket. However, she did have
a favorite ensemble, a relatively new black jacket that went
well with her best black leather pants. It would have to
do. Just a tad masculine? Maybe, but it was
business-appropriate and social-appropriate for
everything but the most formal of occasions. She had a
Little Black Dress for fancy shindigs, but wasn't sure what
signal she'd send if she knocked on Eve's hotel room door
wearing her LBD. Besides, Effie hated high-heeled
pumps. No, black jacket and leather pants would do just
fine. (They'd have to do.) But she did
splurge on a new white blouse and she polished her black Doc
Martin Chelsea Boots to a high-gloss shine.
Effie drove her black (previously owned) 2014 Hyundai Accent to
New York the day before the meeting and checked into a hotel much
cheaper than The Four Seasons. The next day,
she took a cab to 57 East 57th Street, timing her arrival for
the scheduled time. She was met in the lobby by a cute
little secretary type in a smart business suit (high-heeled
pumps, skirt, jacket, and blouse, all expensive and all in
complementary shades of mulberry-red. She had a brunette
pageboy, dimpled smile, big blue eyes, and was only a couple of
inches taller than Effie (thanks to her stylish heels) and she
was adorable. She was also friendly, polite,
efficient, and led Effie through the lobby to an elevator, then
up to a penthouse suite! Wow! Effie's
adorable guide used a key-card to open the suite's double doors,
then stood aside to let her enter.
The room beyond was decorated with exquisite taste—but
it was a penthouse at The Four Seasons, so that
was hardly surprising. Across the expansive living room,
entry lounge, or whatever they called it, Effie could see a
window-wall with an open sliding glass door leading out onto a
balcony with a magnificent vista of Central Park and the towers
of Manhattan. Out on the balcony, with her back turned to Effie, a blond woman wearing a
business suit was seated at a cafe table and sipping a stemmed glass
of white wine.
"She's here, madam!" the adorable brunette with the pageboy
The blonde stood and turned, and—Effie's eyes popped wide in
surprise! What the hell? The blonde was Kyler
Drāgon! The Dragon Lady herself! She was
Sometime later... Effie realized the adorable brunette with the
pageboy had zapped her with a taser! Also, a pair
of statuesque and powerfully built women in black outfits (much
like Effie's, but by necessity several sizes larger) had
appeared from elsewhere in the suite and were already fully
involved in the act of manhandling her!
Belatedly, Effie began struggling. "What? Hey!
Hey! Get your fucking hands off me you bastards!
The female gorillas in black suits—who were obviously bodyguards
or security types and very well versed in the art of
manhandling petite, indignant Canadians—had crammed a
distressingly large ball-gag into Effie's mouth,
buckled it tight under her hair, then followed through
with a single wide strip of off-white Microfoam medical tape
which one of them plastered over most of her lower face!
"Mmpfh!" Effie was gagged! "Mrrrrrf!" She
kicked and fought, but her assailants/handlers easily controlled
her squirming body and countered her every move.
"Nrrmpf!" They also unbuttoned her jacket and pulled it
over her arms and off her body! Followed by her blouse!
The adorable brunette with the pageboy smiled and accepted
Effie's clothing items, one by one, as the squirming journalist
was methodically stripped! Each item was carefully
folded and neatly stacked on a nearby side table.
Next came Effie's bra, followed by her boots... pants...
socks... panties... and she was now completely
Also, one of the she-goons had handcuffed Effie's wrists behind
her now bare back! The other continued controlling her
struggles with depressingly trivial ease.
By this time, Kyler had entered the suite and were smiling and
watching Effie's humiliation and subjugation as if it was a
floor show arranged by the concierge for her amusement.
Effie noted that her designer business ensemble was custom
tailored, obviously and hideously expensive, and the
grinning villainess looked absolutely stunning—not that
admiring the clothing of sinister female financiers' was high on
Effie's list of things-to-do.
"Oh, just look at that adorable little body," Kyler purred with
an openly predatory smile. "She'll do quite nicely."
Meanwhile, the adorable brunette in the pageboy had disrobed to
her underwear—What?—and was donning Effie's pants,
blouse, jacket, and boots! "Mrrrf?"
"Don't worry, Ms. Dennings," Kyler chuckled. "My Cheryl
will take very good care of your things, and you won't
be needing them again, anyway." She smiled at the clothing
thief, who apparently was named "Cheryl"). "She's quite
the little actress," Kyler continued, "and once she adds the
appropriate wig and pops brown contacts into her pretty blue
eyes, everyone she passes will think she's you."
Cheryl was slipping her feet into Effie's boots and zipping them
up. "She knows where all the hotel security cameras are
located and will be careful not to let them record a usable
image of her face." She turned back to Effie. "And
my people are already emptying out your hotel room and disposing
of your automobile. Once you—by which I mean Cheryl—strolls
through the lobby and disappears into Central Park, that will be
that." She nodded at one of Effie's towering handlers.
Effie watched with growing alarm as the handler in question
pulled a folded handkerchief and a small glass vial from her
jacket pocket and emptied the vial into the white cloth.
"Nrrrrrm!" Effie managed one swift kick (which was easily
dodged by the she-goon with the handkerchief), then the cloth
was clamped over her nose and gagged mouth! An acrid
smell burned her sinuses, throat, and lungs... a buzzing began
in her ears... her eyes lost focus... then everything went
She was lying on her side on a huge, decadently comfortable bed
and staring through an expansive window-wall at the urban
landscape of Manhattan. The tail end of a beautiful sunset
was painting the skyscrapers with red-orange light. And
down below, Central Park was already fading into deep purple
shadows. Lights were glowing in many of the countless
windows, but it was too early for streetlights.
Effie focused on her immediate surroundings and realized she was
in a luxurious bedroom. Was she still in Eve Darlington's
penthouse suite? The view out the window was more-or-less
the same as the vista beyond the balcony she'd noticed earlier,
so it was a safe bet.
Also—and it was no small thing—Effie was still naked,
ball-gagged and tape-gagged, and now she was tightly
tied up with white rope, from her shoulders to her toes!
Her bonds were twisted, multi-strand rope, about ¼" in diameter
and surprisingly soft. Silk? Maybe. Maybe
polyester. Whatever the stuff was made of, it seemed
to hold a knot quite well, not that knots were much of an
issue. Effie's hands had been balled into fists and
mummified with taut, smooth, overlapping layers of some sort of
strong tape, possibly duct tape.
Effie's arms were behind her back, her tape-mitten-hands
crossed, and her wrists and arms lashed against her torso.
Horizontal and diagonal bands pinned her upper arms to her
sides, above and below her breasts—yoked her shoulders and
crisscrossed between her breasts—encircled her waist and her
forearms—and lashed her legs together. That is, multiple
white bands encircled her legs at her mid-thighs, above and
below her knees, and around her mid-lower legs, ankles, feet, and
big-toes! And at every opportunity all of the
bindings had been cinched—between her arms and torso, between
her legs, and between her ankles and feet. Even her
toe-bonds were cinched!
By the way, her rope-crazy captor (whoever he or she might be)
had used thin white cord to tie her toes, rather than the
thicker white rope binding her elsewhere. And everything
was tight enough to dimple her skin!
Receiving no answer to her imperious summons, Effie decided
she'd have to free herself. She twisted, squirmed, kicked,
and rolled on the increasingly rumpled bed, doing her absolute
best to perform the required miracle.
Finally, after two very long, very strenuous minutes...
Effie admitted defeat... at least for now. Lying on her
side, Effie panted through her nose. Her heart hammered
and her ever-so-slightly rope-pinched boobs heaved... or tried
to heave. She was panting because of her strenuous but
failed efforts to wiggle out of the tight ropes, of course, not
because she was afraid. Okay, Effie was afraid.
She wasn't stupid. Well Effie, she mused, staring
up at the ceiling, you've managed to land yourself in a
tight spot this time... no pun intended.
Effie supposed she could squirm to the edge of the
bed—plant her feet on the soft carpet—stand—bunny-hop to the
closed bedroom door—somehow manage to open said door with her
tape-mitten-hands—bunny-hop all the way to the suite's front
door—somehow open that door with her tape-mitten-hands—then
bunny-hop out into the hallway and find the nearest
concierge, member of the cleaning staff, and/or a room service
waiter. She assumed The Four Seasons staff would
consider freeing any naked, bound, and gagged
damsels-in-distress they might encounter within the purview of
the hotel's world-famous 5-star service.
All that depended on Kyler Drāgon, the two tall amazon gorillas
who had grabbed her, and
either being absent or deciding to watch her naked,
bouncing escape efforts without interfering.
Effie decided to call that Plan A. As for Plan B... she'd
have to think about it.
Just then, a door opened and Kyler Drāgon casually strolled into
the bedroom. She was wearing nothing but a towel wrapped
around her torso, so Effie assumed she'd just taken a shower and
was emerging from the bathroom. Apparently, this is Kyler
Drāgon's suite, Effie reasoned, and not Eve
Darlington's. I've been duped, and I don't like being
duped... or being stripped naked, gagged, and tied up... but
then, who does?
"Good, you're awake," Kyler purred as she padded to the bed.
Kyler's beautiful face was set in a friendly smile, but
for some reason Effie wasn't reassured. She noted the
blonde's hair was pulled back in a ponytail and appeared to be
dry, not even damp. Effie assumed it had all been stuffed
under a shower cap during the assumed shower. Also,
Kyler's makeup was perfect, including her lip gloss.
Apparently, Effie had regained consciousness after her captor
had turned off the water and/or finished blow-drying her
hair. Either that or the bathroom was very effectively
Still smiling, Kyler sat on the bed and lightly rested her right
hand on Effie's left shoulder.
"Mrrr!" Effie complained, jerking her shoulder away.
Kyler's smile took an overtly sinister twist. She then
reached out, clutched a generous handhold of Effie's left
"Mrrrrf!" Effie kicked and squirmed but was unable to free
her boob from The Dragon Lady's vice-like grip.
"I tied you up myself," Kyler gloated in a near whisper.
"Why should I let my employees have all the fun?" She
released her grip, then began combing errant strands of Effie's
tousled brown hair from her gagged face. "I did a good
job, don't you agree?"
Effie shivered in her bonds and stared razor-sharp daggers
suitable for skinning grizzly bears at her beautiful, blond,
semi-clothed captor. She didn't bother even trying to
answer the obviously rhetorical questions.
Kyler then stood, removed the towel wrapped around her torso,
and dropped it to the floor—revealing her tan, toned, curvaceous
and exquisitely fit body in all its villainous glory. "I
have a party to finish getting ready for," she purred, "so I'll
have to leave you. But don't worry. Very soon my
ladies will be along to get you ready to travel."
Effie blinked in alarm. 'Travel?' That doesn't
Kyler entered a walk-in closet and Effie decided to take that as
permission to escape. Unfortunately, Round Two of
twisting, rolling, and kicking her naked, bound, and gagged body
on the bed was no more productive than Round One.
Minutes passed... then Kyler emerged from the closet wearing a
full-length, strapless, form-hugging, glamorous gown of
shirred black silk. Her hair was free of the ponytail,
loose about her shoulders in "tousled" waves, and framing her
smiling face. A necklace of sparkling diamonds that had to
be worth a small fortune graced her swan-like neck. She
was a glamorous, gorgeous vision. Also
"I look forward to our next meeting, Ms. Dennings," Kyler
purred. "Until then." She then turned and strolled
from the bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Effie watched her go, then decided Round Three of Operation Free
Myself was in order. Several minutes of futile effort
later... she relaxed.
Suddenly, the door flew open and the two amazon gorillas in
black suits, Effie's initial captors, trooped into the
bedroom. One was wheeling a large, bulky piece of
obviously expensive luggage, something between a small steamer
trunk and a very large suitcase.
Effie watched from the bed (with understandable apprehension) as
the she-goons opened the suitcase/trunk. "NRRR!"
Even though she knew it was useless, Effie began Round Four of
enthusiastic struggling and squirming.
The suitcase/trunk's interior was thickly padded with some sort
of black foam and there was a cutout the exact size and shape of
a human body folded into the fetal position! There were
also several wide straps of black nylon webbing with hefty
snap-buckles, and clamped in a small cutout in the lid was a
compact gas cylinder painted the bright green color Effie knew
was code for compressed oxygen! And dangling from the
cylinder's regulator by a length of clear, coiled plastic tubing
was a clear plastic breathing mask with a head-harness of more
black nylon webbing and snap-buckles!
One of the she-goons busied herself by carefully arranged the
straps and breathing mask, readying them for use. The
other strolled to the bed, sat, and pulled Effie's furiously
squirming and mewling head and rope-yoked shoulders onto her
lap. Effie continued struggling as the amazon pulled a
plastic syrette from her inside jacket pocket and removed the
Effie did not what to be injected with whatever was in
that spring-loaded syringe! Unfortunately, as the she-goon
was big and strong and Effie was petite and quite thoroughly
tied up, her opinion was entirely moot. The amazon placed
the business end of the syrette against Effie's neck, just under
her left ear, and despite Effie's best efforts to squirm away.
Effie heard a quiet click and immediately felt a sting...
which was followed by a sensation of intense cold at
the injection point... which quickly became a burning sensation...
which was followed by... darkness.