|by Van © 2020|
|OUR STORY CONCLUDES
Time passed... at least an hour.
Beyond the bars of the Gazebo Cage, songbirds flitted from tree to tree, fluffy clouds drifted across a clear blue sky, and the shadows of the bordering trees shortened as the sun rose ever higher.
There was no sign of Tasha and no noise from elsewhere in the Stable. But then, the Ranch House was on the opposite side of the Stable, so maybe she was busy over there.
Anyway, when would Tasha come back? And what would happen to them if she didn't came back? She'd said "goodbye," ...and what if she'd meant "goodbye forever?"
Effie remained convinced that there was no point in even trying to escape from her upper-body-harness. The damn thing was too tight and too well designed. Also, her fingers and hands were fully encased behind her back, her mouth bit-gagged, which rendered her lips and teeth unavailable, and the same was true of all of her herd-sisters. She (and they) had their toes to work with, of course, but she seriously doubted any of them had the required toe dexterity to unbuckle any of their harness straps. And that also applied to the untying the knot in the long loop of parachute cord threaded through their nipple-rings and around the Gazebo Cage's central post.
Another probable hour passed.
The herd had long since settled onto the hard concrete floor and were sitting or lying in various positions, periodically rolling and squirming for "comfort." They had to be somewhat careful, thanks to the parachute cord loop, but it was generous in length and allowed them significant wiggle room. The ponygirl order around the post was Effie, Jana, Lolita, Olivia, Jo, and back to Effie.
Jo ● Jana
Olivia —— Lolita
Effie was hungry and thirsty, and she assumed her herd-sisters were as well. Their situation was frustrating. It was also terrifying, but she carefully clamped down on her worst fear. Things were bad enough without the added the stress of dwelling on the worst case scenario: a lingering death. Effie channeled everything she had into fostering hope, as well as a generalized sense of personal urgency. They had to escape! So they might as well get to it!
There was the issue of punishment if the door suddenly opened and Tasha caught them in the act of being bad ponies, but any punishment Tasha might dish out was preferable to dying of thirst (to say the least). She just hoped her herd-sisters would reach the same conclusion and wouldn't have to waste time with a gagged-argument and/or nipple-ring tug of war.
Okay... fine... but what to do? First things first!
Having only her toes available to untie the knot tied in the cord might be difficult (to put it charitably). But hold on! Effie thought. Why does untying the cord have to go first?
Effie examined Jo's binder carefully, even though by this time she was familiar with every aspect of the damn things in full detail, inside and out. She knew exactly how Tasha secured each and every buckle and in what order. Also, as all the costumes were the same, meaning they were one-size-fits-all, made to the same measurements, everything Effie knew about her harness du jour applied to all harnesses. Each and every very strap was punched with exactly three holes, and when properly closed, the buckles' tongues always passed through the middle hole. The harnesses were neat and tidy, with no excessive strap ends flopping around. Also, the leather used was thick and only as pliable as it needed to be, which meant the ends in question were stiff.
Were the stiff, short strap ends a weakness? Was it really impossible to extricate themselves from the harnesses? More precisely, might it be possible for one ponygirl to extricate another? There was only one way to find out!
Effie squirmed as close to Jo as she could... who watched her wiggling approach with curiosity. The rest of the herd watched as well. It wasn't a long journey, and thankfully, the cord slithering through Effie's nipple-rings was only a minor distraction. Finally, she arrived in what she judged to be the optimal position, spun around on her butt, lay down on her back, lifted her legs, and began fiddling with the buckle of Jo's right upper shoulder strap with her toes.
Jo smiled (with her eyes) as she quickly realized what Effie was trying to do. Lolita and Olivia also grasped Effie's plan and also smiled (with their eyes). It was clear that all of Effie's herd-sisters were on board with her plan.
The armbinder was the key. If Effie could get Jo out of the armbinder portion of her harness, she'd be able to complete the task of freeing herself and then could free the rest of them. The armbinder in question tightly encased Jo's hands and forearms and pressed her folded arms against her back, and it was anything but a loose bag. The armbinder (or perhaps, the armbinder sub-system of the upper-body harness) was an elbow-to-elbow leather tube held closed by a horizontal row of three buckles, and the two shoulder straps of the main harness also contributed to the armbinder's function. That meant a total of five straps had to be unbuckled before Jo's arms, hands, and fingers would be completely free. Jo might be able to pull one arm free at some point during the process, but only time would tell.
Jana realized she could help, wiggled and squirmed close, and her ten pink toes joined the fray.
Olivia and Lolita did their bit by squirming as close to the post as possible, thereby maximizing the available slack in the nipple-ring-cord for Effie and Jana.
Being able to discuss how best to manipulate the strap and coordinate their efforts would have been nice, but then, a whole lot of things would have been nice, like breakfast and several cups of hot coffee. Although, as it was now about midmorning, she supposed brunch was more appropriate and added a Mimosa to her imaginary beverage order.
Progress was agonizingly slow. So far, after several minutes of joint effort and many false starts, all Jana and Effie had achieved was sliding the free end of one shoulder strap half out of its buckle. Now, the difficulty was that their toes just weren't strong enough to overcome the tension of the buckle and release its tongue. Effie and Jana were actually getting quite good at working together, but toes are a poor substitute for fingers. They kept trying.
At one point Effie and Jana took a breather... and Effie noted that Lolita and Olivia were sitting on the far side of the post with their breasts pressed against the wood and their bit-gagged heads to either side as they watching their herd-sisters' efforts. Effie thought they were devilishly cute, like a pair of inquisitive monkeys. She realized it was both inappropriate and unproductive to harbor such thoughts, but she couldn't help it. It was unavoidable. After about three minutes of rest... Effie and Jana went back to work.
Hour three of their incarceration in the Gazebo Cage came and went. And then, well into hour four, Effie had a minor brainstorm. Maybe she could grip the half-loosened strap between her upper or lower teeth and the rubber bit! The bit in question was tight in her mouth (of course), but she could try. Plus, her poor toes were in danger of cramping.
Effie sat upright, squirmed close to Jo, and tried to capture the dangling tend of the half-loosened strap between her lower teeth and the rubber bit... several times. Finally, she succeeded!
"Mrrrrf!" Jana, Lolita, and Olivia cheered (if you could call it a cheer).
Effie tugged on the strap like a terrier with a bone. Nothing. The tongue didn't disengage. She tried again. Still nothing. However, on Effie's third try, Jo rolled her shoulder, producing just a little slack, and the tongue popped out of the hole!
"Mrrrrr!" It was another cheer.
One buckle down and only four to go. At this rate, it was going to be time for dinner before Jo was free. There was nothing for it but to get back to work. Effie heaved a gagged sigh, then gazed at the remaining straps. Should they try for the buckle of Jo's other shoulder straps, or the closest of the three buckles of the armbinder itself?
Suddenly—"BAM!"—the door flew open and banged against the wall!
Standing in the doorway was a man dressed in camouflage and wearing a helmet and face-shield. Effie recognized the heavy steel object in his hands as a "door-knocker," a solid pipe with handles used by the police to open a door by brute force. The man stepped aside and second man entered the Gazebo Cage. He was also dressed in camouflaged tactical gear but was wielding a sub-machine gun (with obvious competence) instead of a door-knocker. And oh-by-the-way, emblazoned on his body armor were three letters in light-gray: FBI.
An immense wave of relief washed over Effie. Unbuckling the rest of Jo's armbinder straps with her toes was no longer required.
|| Chapter 9
The herd was rescued!
Effie heaved an immense sigh. Jana squirmed to Lolita and they huddled together, as best they could. Tears streamed from Olivia's eyes and down her bit-gagged and bridled face. Jo straightened her posture and asserted as much aristocratic dignity as her nakedness and pony-harnessed condition would allow.
Another FBI agent in tactical gear entered the space, followed by three agents in blue jackets with FBI emblazoned on the left breast and back in gold letters. Finally, a petite, very attractive blonde in a black pants-suit crossed the threshold.
GUEST STARRING as
FBI Special Agent Susie Dunn
The obvious leader of the rescue was also blond, and was taller than the Blonde-in-Black. She issued orders into a handheld radio, but Effie was still busy basking in their deliverance and none of her words registered in Effie's conscious mind.
One of the other blue jacketed agents began completing the unbuckling of Jo's harness while another snapped photos with an expensive looking camera.
The petite Blonde-in-Black knelt in front of Effie and smiled a dazzling, blue-eyed smile. "Hi," she purred. "You would be Effie Dennings." She began unbuckling Effie's bridle. "I'm Krystal Flambeau."
Effie frowned as the head-caging straps of the bridle loosened. I know that name! The bit left her mouth and she worked her jaw, licked her lips, and swallowed. Then it came to her: Flambeau Investigations!
Krystal pulled a 12 oz. bottle of spring water from her jacket pocket, held it Effie's lips, and she took a gloriously wet chug of the cool (room temperature), clear water.
"Thank you," Effie sighed.
"You're welcome," Krystal replied, capped and returned the bottle to her pocket, then attacked the buckles of Effie's upper-body-harness.
Flambeau Investigations was famous, and the company enjoyed a sterling reputation. They'd cracked numerous high profile cases involving everything from organized crime to corporate fraud. As an investigative journalist, Effie was well aware of their history. Flambeau employed dozens of detectives, cyber-experts (hackers), and forensic accountants. Their corporate headquarters was in New York City and occupied most of one floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. Krystal was the CEO and founder and was the author of... five books? Effie thought it was five books, all of them about her big, famous cases, but it so happened Effie hadn't read any of them.
Meanwhile, more blue-jacketed Agents had entered the Gazebo Cage and were busy freeing the rest of the herd, giving them drinks and draping blankets over their shoulders for modesty's sake.
Modesty, Effie mused. I remember modesty.
Other blue-jackets were snapping more photos and/or bagging, tagging, and labeling the items of ponygirl tack as they left the herd's bodies.
The Blonde-in-Charge approached just as Krystal finished freeing Effie, helped her to her feet, and draped a blanket over her shoulders. "Are you done messing with my crime scene, Krys?" she inquired with a slightly sardonic smile.
"Susie!" Krystal laughed, "calling a crime victim a crime scene? How unprofessional." She turned to Effie and indicated the blonde with a graceful flip of the wrist and an endearing grin. "Effie Dennings, allow me to introduce Special Agent Susie Dunn."
Dunn shook Effie's hand. "Ms. Dennings. The EMTs will look you over shortly, but is there anything you need right now?"
Effie blinked and returned the handshake. Krystal was short, blond, and beautifully cute, but Susie was tall, blond, and beautifully beautiful. Taller, anyway, she thought. "Some food would be nice."
"You'll all get something to eat before the interviews begin," Susie answered, then turned to Jo, who was gazing at her with aristocratic politeness. "Excuse me," she said and stepped close to Jo.
"Let's listen," Krystal whispered.
"My thoughts exactly," Effie whispered back. Ya think?
"Lady Gladburn," Susie smiled, offering her hand. "Special Agent Dunn. I'm pleased you aren't harmed."
"Thank you," Jo responded, shaking Susie's hand. "I'm very grateful. We're all very grateful, but I must ask to be put in contact with the nearest British consul. I must know what's happening at home."
Susie smiled. "Representatives from MI-6 and Scotland Yard will participate in your interview. We'll do our best to answer all your questions."
"Excellent," Jo beamed, then turned her attention to Olivia, who was standing at her side and wiping tears from her eyes with one corner of her blanket. "Come," Jo said quietly, and opened her arms as wide as her blanket would allow while still maintaining adequate coverage. The two Brits embraced and held each other close.
"Adorable," Krystal sighed.
Krystal's use of the "A word" prompted Effie to focus on Jana and Lolita. They were standing side-by-side, each draped in a blanket with their arms around each other, and beaming dimpled smiles at Jo and Lolita.
"I suppose you could say that," Effie conceded, then turned to face Krystal. "Tasha?"
"Fled," Krystal answered, still smiling her own adorable, dimpled smile at the two Brits.
"You arranged that, didn't you," Effie accused in a whisper.
Krystal's smile turned rather coy and she whispered back. "I promise we'll revisit the topic of Tasha Nash later, when Susie and her federal friends can't overhear. There are things you should know, and I promise to answer all your questions truthfully. But please, later. Will you trust me?"
Effie stared at Krystal for several long seconds. She was rescued. The herd was rescued. And if the FBI was letting Krystal Flambeau take part in the rescue, she had to have had a critical role in making it all possible. Effie decided her trust was more than warranted, and nodded. "But not too much later," she added.
"Of course," Krystal beamed, then pulled a pair of lock picks from pockets sewn into the back of her left jacket lapel and quickly, deftly defeated the lock still linking Effie's collar to the long chain dangling from the top of the central post. "The lock on your collar looks like it might take a little more effort," she sighed.
"Kyler Drāgon?" Effie inquired. Letting Tasha skate (even temporarily) was one thing. The Dragon Lady was another.
Krystal's smile became somewhat predatory. "As we speak, several tons of heavy shit are descending on Drāgon Global Associates, and especially its CEO." She leaned even close again and continued in another whisper. "Thanks in no small part to Tasha and the files she shared with me. That's something else you shouldn't share with Susie. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Effie whispered back. She found herself really looking forward to Krystal's promised "no Feds briefing" about Tasha's alleged role in their rescue.
And thus it was that Effie's Great Ponygirl Adventure ended... or rather, entered a decidedly less naked, less restrictive, and non-equestrian phase.
The events of the next few days played out as follows:
The rescued herd was interviewed by the FBI as promised (warned), and in the case of Lady Jo and Olivia, the two Brits, by the FBI and representatives of Her Majesty's government.
Kyler Drāgon was arrested late in the afternoon on the day of the rescue. She had zero warning. "Unfortunately," someone had warned the press and they were lying in wait as the CEO of Drāgon Global Associates was subjected to a humiliating "perp walk" in handcuffs from her palatial office, through the offices of her World Headquarters, across the lobby of the host skyscraper, out onto the Manhattan sidewalk, and into the back of a black FBI SUV. The event not only made the evening news, but went viral on the internet. When Effie finally found an opportunity to watch the video, she was highly gratified (but also a little disappointed the sadistic bitch hadn't been dragged to her fate by her ponytail).
Kyler "lawyered up" instantly, of course, but was denied bail as a flight risk. And over the course of the next few weeks, her army of dream-team lawyers were culled, one-by-one, until only a pitiful squad remained. How? Why? Thanks to Lolita!
As a Drāgon Global Associates IT specialist (before her transfer to the Ponygirl Department), Lolita was privy to "back doors" in the corporate database. Instead of the FBI's forensic accountants having to sift through truckloads of paper records, the bureau's cyber experts were presented with terabytes of easily searchable cyber-records. It was everything the U.S. Attorney needed to prosecute both Kyler and those of her associates who had been aware of her "hobby" and had either expedited the abductions of the herd-sisters or had turned a blind eye to the situation, and that included most of her lawyers. Everything might have come out eventually, but thanks to Lolita, none of Kyler's accomplices had time to cover their tracks and/or flee.
However, there was two exceptions.
Somehow, Eve Darlington (COO and Acting-CEO of The Gladburn Group) successfully made an escape one step ahead of Scotland Yard and was still at large.
This really stuck in Effie's craw, but there was nothing she could do about it.
The other escapee was Tasha Nash.
Once she got the chance, Krystal kept her promise and explained to Effie that in the course of Krystal's investigation into the disappearance of Lady Gladburn (as opposed to Effie's investigation), she'd stumbled across the Drāgon/Darlington connection and found the leather-working firm that custom made all The Dragon Lady's ponygirl tack. And in the process, she stumbled across the name "Tasha Nash."
Krystal failed to determine Tasha's current location (which was The Ranch), but managed to get a message to Tasha through a shady acquaintance. A series of phone calls followed and Krystal made Tasha an offer. When Tasha decided to cut her losses and turn on Kyler, Krystal promised she'd help Tasha evade law enforcement. The price, of course, was the exact location of The Ranch and the preservation of anything and everything the FBI would use to convict Kyler Drāgon of her crimes.
Could the bureau have found The Ranch with what Kyler already knew? Maybe, but not without Kyler learning they were hot on her trail and spurring her to cover her tracks and dispose of the evidence (including Lady Jo). It was a risk, but by patiently waiting for Tasha to rat-out her employer, Kyler's surprise would be complete when the trap was finally sprung, and (hopefully) Her Ladyship would be safe. That said, Krystal and her team continued feverishly searching for Lady Jo while she waited for Tasha's call, a call she knew might never come. As it turned out, her risk payed off. The Dragon Lady went bat-shit wacko and the call did come.
"And really," Krystal purred, smiling her gorgeous, dimpled smile, "all I really did was give Tasha a head start. She could still get caught, at any time."
The FBI knew nothing about Krystal's pre-rescue dealings with Tasha, of course, and Effie decided to agreed to keep the secret. She wasn't happy about it, but she owed Krystal and her team big time! And Krystal was right, the feds could still catch up to Tasha, and she'd be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life. Finally, Effie had to admit the beautiful, athletic amazon had been a "nice" handler/stable-mistress (in a grabby, domineering, demeaning sort of way). If someone was going to avoid paying for her crimes, it might as well be Tasha.
Anyway, more time passed and more stuff happened, such as:
Krystal hired Effie as one of her investigators. More precisely, Krystal made the offer, Effie refused, Krystal repeated the offer, Effie refused, lather, rinse, repeat.
Krystal stated that she liked the cut of Effie's jib. Effie retorted that Krystal should keep her nautical preferences to herself. Krystal sweetened the pot with a salary increase. Effie still refused. Finally, Krystal explained it was her intention that Effie should continue investigating things that she found interesting and writing stories as a journalist. Her services would be commandeered only when needed for important, high-profile cases.
Eventually, Effie relented and joined Kyler's team. It was the key to the executive washroom that tipped the scale. She didn't get a badge, but she did get a nifty, official-looking looking ID in a leather flip-wallet and access to an arsenal of fancy, expensive snooping and spying gadgets and gizmos.
Jo and Olivia returned to the UK and traveled back to the States only to testify at Kyler's trial, but the Brits kept in touch with their herd-sisters via phone, e-mail, and Skype.
Also, if the Fourth Estate had gone crazy when Lady Jo disappeared, they went outright BONKERS when she was rescued and the details of her equestrian ordeal were revealed.
Lady Gladburn granted a handful of sit-down interviews with a few of the most reputable journalists on both sides of the pond, but by and large she ignored the press (especially the paparazzi) and retreated to the stately seclusion her family home, Gladburn Castle in Cumbria. From her office in the castle, she not only oversaw the repair of the damage Kyler and Eve had done to the Gladburn Group, but recovered its looted assets and much, much more.
In a series of stunning, judo-like maneuvers (using information from Drāgon Global Associates own confidential records) Jo systematically absorbed the best parts of Kyler's conglomerate. She'd hired Jana and Lolita, of course, so between the two of them she knew where at least a few of Kyler's financial bodies were buried and had the keys to the data crypts where they were entombed. Things happened very quickly. Jana and Lolita didn't know everything Kyler had been up to, of course, but they knew enough, and as Kyler's empire unraveled, Jo and her loyal team were able to turn a series of financial blows into a total rout.
Jo made the covers of all the business magazines.
Effie was a little bummed she wasn't the one who rescued the others (and herself), but all things considered, she decided she could live with Krystal getting the credit. It was a hell of a lot better than still being stuck back at The Ranch, naked, in ponygirl tack, clomping around the exercise track, and still clueless about getting an escape plan to square one.
Krystal—smiling, beautiful, petite, perfect boss that she was—sensed Effie's dissatisfaction and came up with the perfect solution: Effie should write a true-crime, nonfiction, eyewitness account of the "Great Lady Gladburn Ponygirl Adventure." It wouldn't be salacious and exploitatative (with kinky photos and diagrams), of course, but Krystal was sure it would be a success. And as it turned out, she was right. Effie wrote such a book and it became an instant bestseller.
Also, Krystal offered Effie co-authorship of a book about their separate investigations of the disappearance of Lady Jo, the triumphant rescue, and the Trial of The Dragon Lady. Effie accepted, they co-wrote such a book, and it was also a bestseller.
Interviews, talk shows, magazine covers, movie deals, television pilots—lather, rinse, repeat.
So... all was well, Effie grew used to wearing clothes again, and that's the end of the story... almost.
|...& the story