"Frankie" Dekker, freelance investigative reporter
extraordinaire, had long since settled into a steady,
mile-eating rhythm. Cross-country skiing wasn't her
favorite sport, but she was good at it. Frankie was good
at almost every sport, or at least adequate.
Frankie was dressed in a winter version of what she called her
"skulking outfit." Hiking boots, black cargo pants, black
turtleneck sweater, skintight long-johns, and finally, a black
equipment vest with compact binoculars, smartphone, lock picks,
and everything else she needed to conduct covert surveillance or
infiltration. She was wearing a white rucksack with a
compact sleeping bag and emergency rations, just in case, and
her outerwear was a reversible coverall with late-season
mountain camouflage on one side and snow camouflage on the
other. Currently, the
white-mottled-with-blotches-of-pale-gray side was out. A
white watch-cap, snow goggles, and black gloves completed her
The snow was a little sloppy, but not too bad, and the sun was
out. The last time she checked the weather forecast, the
next two days were predicted to be more of the same. She
should be able to ski to her destination, look around a little
(a polite euphemism for sticking her cute little nose where it
didn't belong), then ski back to her car—or call the cops and
wait for them to arrive—or escort her target to
safety—etc. Frankie would play it by ear. She
The ridge she was skiing led to a minor peak that should
overlook the destination in question: the Quaking Aspens
Sanatorium. It would be Frankie's first actual look at the
place, although she had studied the satellite view via Google
Earth. The sanatorium had very little web presence,
which Frankie considered a red flag. What private medical
clinic doesn't have a flashy web page?
Frankie's ultimate target was Superior Court Judge Amanda
Bowden. An up-and-comer with an impeccable reputation,
Judge Bowden was supposedly on the short list for the next
opening on the Ninth Circuit. Her Honor was one of many
potential stories Frankie had on her journalistic radar, and
three days ago she'd received a ping.
One of Bowden's neighbors had filed a police report of
suspicious activity at the Judge's home. Supposedly, an
ambulance had roared from her driveway in the middle of the
night, and the judge was now missing! The police looked
into it and decided it was nothing. The official word was
the judge was on vacation for the next month, but her office
wouldn't say where she'd gone, only that she was fine.
Okay, Judge Bowden was free to bask on the tropical beach of her
choice and tan in privacy, but Frankie's gut told her to dig a
little deeper. She interviewed the neighbor, an elderly
widow with a stereotypical fondness for tea and cats, and
learned the ambulance had unusually subdued markings, and the
logo on the front door was in the shape of an aspen leaf.
Her Honor had arranged to take a private ambulance to the
airport? And speaking of the airport, her name wasn't on any
of the passenger manifests for that day, as far as Frankie's
sources could tell. Amanda Bowden flew out under an
assumed name? Unlikely.
Frankie had learned to trust her gut. Something was going
on. She didn't know what, but it was a story, she could
feel it. The ambulance and logo cues led to the Quaking
Aspens Sanatorium, and her attempts to arrange for an interview
or a visit had been rebuffed, for reasons of "patient
privacy." Frankie hadn't mentioned Bowden's name, and
she'd tried dangling the carrot of a journalistic puff-piece, a
story to help put the sanatorium on the map, but they weren't
interested... which was strange... and did not reassure
her gut. Something was going on at Quaking Aspens, even if
it had nothing to do with Judge Bowden.
Frankie reached the crest. Making sure she wasn't
silhouetted against the sky, she pulled out her binoculars and
examined the scene below. She had a perfect view.
The sanatorium was a complex of buildings, all in the Alpine
Chalet style popular for mountain vacation homes. From
Frankie's vantage point, most of the mile of switchback private
road leading down to the the mechanized gate at the state
highway was visible. She was more convinced than ever that
taking the "back road" had been the right call. There was
no guard shack down at the road, but even in snow camouflage,
Frankie would have stood out like the proverbial sore thumb
trying to sneak up the road, day or night. She could see
light posts at regular intervals along the road, and the rest of
the front slope was too steep to climb. As for getting
down to the sanatorium from her current position, Frankie could
see at least a couple of routes she could ski without difficulty
and without leaving a trail that would be visible from down
below. There was also a nice clump of trees where she
could stash her skis and rucksack and sneak into the clinic.
All she had to do was wait 'til twilight, when there was still
enough light for her to ski but not enough to be noticed by a
nurse, doctor, or patient randomly looking out a window to
admire the scenery.
skis, poles, and rucksack were well-concealed, yet close enough
to the nearest buildings that with any kind of a head start
she'd be able to don her skis and make her getaway. This
assumed the Quaking Aspens wasn't actually the lair of a Bond
Villain with elite ski-troops, machine gun equipped snowmobiles,
and attack helicopters on the payroll. She shed her snow
camouflage coverall, draped it over her equipment cache for
added concealment, then crept to her selected entry point, a
side door of the main building.
The door surrendered to her lock-picks with little
difficulty. She noted that aside from the outside light
shining above the door, there was no added security, no alarm
contacts or video cameras, inside or out. She managed to
clean most of the snow from her boots before crossing the
threshold, so with a little luck, her intrusion would go
The interior of the clinic had the pleasant, soothing, generic
feel of a typical medical facility. The linoleum floor
tiles were in a large-scale checkerboard pattern of tan and
brown and the walls were clad with waist-high bumper rails of
bleached oak, the kind used to protect the drywall from
wheelchairs, carts, and gurneys. Above and below the rails
the walls were painted a soothing (meaning boring) institutional
The place was also hot. They probably set the thermostats
high for the comfort of their patients. It certainly
wasn't for the comfort of potential skulkers in boots,
long-johns, cargo-pants, and turtleneck sweaters. Frankie
could already feel herself starting to "glow."
There were doors, lots of doors, all with neat, tasteful, easy
to read, but surprisingly uninformative signs. An
alphanumeric code probably gave the floor, wing, and unique
designation of each room, but at least in the immediate area,
they gave no hint of any of the rooms actual use. More or
less at random, Frankie chose a door and slowly, carefully
opened the door wide enough to peek into the space beyond.
Frankie smiled. Luck was with her. It was a dressing
room or lounge of some sort, with upright, double-sized gym
lockers along one wall, a sofa and a couple of easy chairs, and
a small bookshelf next to a desk with a computer
workstation. Best of all, Frankie had the place to
herself. She crossed the threshold and eased the door
closed behind her, then strolled to the nearest locker and
opened the door.
Hanging from a horizontal bar were several white dresses on
hangers. To the right was a set of open shelves with
neatly folded and stacked nylon stockings, garter belts,
panties, and bras, all in white, and above the dresses on a long
shelf was a neat row of traditional white nurse caps.
Finally, pairs of white, sensible shoes were arrayed on the
locker floor. Frankie realized she'd found a cache of
Luck indeed! Frankie knew she'd have to sneak
around the sanatorium, regardless, doing her best not to be seen
by the staff, but skulking around as an all-in-black cat burglar
didn't make nearly as much sense as sneaking around as a
nurse. Also, given the tropical setting of the heating
system, it would be way more comfortable. She
checked the label of the first uniform on the rack. My
size, she noted. It's fate.
Frankie quickly removed her boots, socks, equipment harness,
cargo pants, turtleneck, and long-johns, then donned stockings,
panties, garter belt, and bra. She noted that the white
undies were all somewhat skimpy, frilly, and outright risque,
not the sort of practical and functional underthings one might
expect to find hugging the body of a medical professional going
about her duties. The panties were French-cut, the bra was
of the push-up variety, and as for the stockings and garter
belt, they were just... sexy. She pulled on the short
sleeve dress and zipped up the front. It hugged her form
and came to her mid-thighs, almost like a mini-skirt, and the
zipper stopped between her breasts. There was no way to
wear the thing without showing significant cleavage. A
mirror mounted on the inside of the locker door and a small
container of hairpins from the top shelf allowed her to don one
of the nurse
caps. Finally, she selected a pair of white shoes in her
size and laced them on. They were as much sneakers as work
shoes and were surprisingly comfortable.
herself in the mirror. Hello nurse! she thought as
she winked at her reflection. The outfit straddled the
line between a "Sexy Nurse" Halloween costume and the uniform of
an actual healthcare professional, but for skulking purposes it
was infinitely superior to her action-heroine ensemble.
She bundled her black clothes, equipment harness, and boots and
stashed them in the locker, slid her smartphone, lock-picks, and
the ID folder with her press credentials into her uniform
pockets, closed the locker, then strolled to the desk with the
As Frankie had hoped, the system was on. All it took to
wake up the screen was a tap of the keyboard's space-bar.
The Quaking Aspens Sanatorium banner appeared above a simple
menu. Frankie selected "Inpatients," the screen cleared,
and a table of names, room numbers, and "Treatment Codes"
Frankie smiled. Among the names was "BOWDEN, A."
Frankie noted the judge's room number, as well as the treatment
code: "RBT/S." Eventually she'd figure out the door signs
and find the room. As for the treatment code... She
tapped on the code and a new window popped open. It was
labeled "Patient Record: BOWDEN, AMANDA," but the rest of the
window was blank except for a "STAFF LOG-IN" box. Frankie
stared at the screen for a few seconds, then closed the
window. Better not mess around trying to guess
passwords, she reasoned. It might trip a
security flag. When I find the judge, maybe there
will be written records and I'll find out why she's here.
She left the dressing room or lounge or whatever the place was
officially called, memorizing the room code so she could find
her way back and change into her own clothes. Escaping
into the mountains in a nurse's uniform might be good snow
camouflage, but it would be decidedly chilly.
Frankie chose a direction, more or less at random, and began her
skulking—in a nonchalant manner, of course—strolling quietly
down the hallway and ready to duck into a room if she ran into
It turned out
Frankie didn't have to use her limited cryptography skills to
"crack" the door sign code. Floor, hallway designation,
and actual room number—it was all there, separated by
dashes. She felt somewhat chagrined for her earlier
confusion as she found a stairway and made her way to the third
floor, where she ought to find Bowden's room. Her
sneakers/work shoes were virtually silent on the rubber-clad
stair treads, and the doors opened silently... so far, anyway.
Entering the third floor, Frankie followed the signs to the
designated room. There was no sign of activity in the
area. Her destination was down a side hall, and like many
of the other doors on the floor, there was a rack for patient
records mounted on the wall below the door sign.
Unfortunately for Frankie the snoopy reporter, the rack for
Bowden's room was empty. However, and also like the other
doors with racks, there was a small viewing window at head
height covered by a sliding panel.
Frankie crept forward, slowly, silently slid open the panel,
peered through the glass and into the room beyond—and her right
hand flew up to cover her mouth as she gasped in shock
The room was a typical private hospital suite with the usual
generic furniture, including Modern-style visitor chairs and
cabinets and an adjustable hospital bed. Judge Bowden was
lying on her back on the bed and at her bedside was a nurse—at
least Frankie assumed she was a nurse.
The nurse in question was dressed in the same uniform as
Frankie, right down to her sensible shoes and traditional
cap. Her hair was long and black and pulled back in a
ponytail, her features were Asian, and she was very
As for the judge...
Amanda Bowden—and there was no doubt the patient on the bed was
Her Honor—was naked! Actually, she was wearing a sheer,
gauzy robe in a pleasing shade of rose-pink, but it was open and
spread to either side, completely exposing her body, including,
of course, her breasts and private parts, which at the moment
were not so private. Also, the judge was tied to
the bed with white rope! And she was gagged!
The upper half of the bed was elevated a few degrees, and
Amanda's arms were raised with her hands to either side of her
head and her legs splayed. That is, she was in a somewhat
relaxed spread-eagle. Multiple strands of rope lashed her
to the bed at her wrists, just above her elbows, her waist, just
above her knees, and at her ankles. In each case, her
bonds were anchored by horizontal and/or vertical and/or
diagonal doubled strands tied to the bed rails on both sides and
stretched across the bed, tightly enough to dimple the
mattress. The terminal knots closest to her hands were
neat, tidy, and well beyond the reach of her groping, fluttering
fingers. Clearly, the judge could do nothing to free
herself, and she was squirming and struggling. Her
gag appeared to be tight, multiple layers of white bandages or
medical tape, and they mummified her lower face from just below
her flaring nostrils and bulging cheeks to just above the point
of her chin. Finally, there was some sort of narrow,
possibly plastic collar around the Judge's neck, but at this
distance and through the glass Frankie couldn't make out any
With a serene, gloating smile, the nurse tied a final knot and
gazed at her patient/prisoner. Judge Bowden continued
testing her bonds, her eyes locked with her "care giver."
Frankie noted that the judge had a killer body, for her
age. Actually, she had a killer body for any
age. Her skin was clear and fair and her physique both
feminine and fit. Clearly, Her Honor took care of
herself. Her breasts weren't especially huge, but they
were nicely shaped and appeared to be firm, without any
significant degree of sag. That might have had something
to do with her current spreadeagled-on-her-back position, but
Frankie's money was on firm.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room (and in the hallway) was the
obvious question: What the hell is going on here?
Frankie pulled her phone from her pocket, activated it and
quickly entered her pass-code, then opened the camera app.
She held the phone to the window, centered the helpless judge
and her "nurse" in the screen and—"Ow!"
Something had stung Frankie in the right butt-cheek!
It had been a wasp or bee or... Frankie turned and found
another nurse, this one tall, Black, beautiful, and smiling,
with a hypodermic syringe in her right hand. Frankie
blinked in surprise and opened her mouth to say something... but
couldn't decide what to say. Suddenly, everything was...
confusing... a muddle... strange. She watched as the nurse
deftly snapped a plastic cover over the needle and slid the
syringe into her pocket, then plucked the phone from Frankie's
suddenly lifeless fingers. Okay, that I can talk about,
Frankie decided. "That's my ph—"
Frankie closed her eyes and collapsed. The nurse caught
her halfway to the floor and eased her to the linoleum, but
Frankie was beyond caring. She was already unconscious.
considered opening her eyes.
She gave it serious consideration.
It was complicated.
Seriously, were her eyes actually closed? Or were they
open and she was in total darkness? Blinking her eyelids
should resolve the situation, but that seemed like a lot of
work... and she was sooo relaxed... and why shouldn't
she sleep in for a change? Not that she was in her bed,
back at her apartment, or in any bed, for that
matter. She was sitting in a chair... probably... maybe.
No, she was positive she was sitting in a chair. What kind
of chair she wasn't sure, but it had arms for her arms... a seat
for her seat... a back for her back... and footrests for
her feet... and it was a chair.
And as for the other thing... What was the other
thing? Oh yeah, my eyes.
Frankie opened her eyes, and found she wasn't in total
darkness. She lifted her head, looked around, and found
she was in an office of some sort, and she was in a
chair. And she was naked!
Frankie blinked her eyes in surprise. Wait!
What? She squirmed in place, and realized that not
only was she naked and in a chair, but she was naked and bound
and was going to remain in said chair!
And she was gagged! Bound and gagged! Naked, bound
to the chair, and gagged! Something, she couldn't tell
what, was stuffed in her mouth and a strip of some sort of tape
sealed her lips and covered her lower face. She tossed her
head and tried working her jaws and opening her mouth, but all
she succeeded in accomplishing was a minor rearrangement of her
loose, tousled hair.
Frankie tugged on her bonds and squirmed in the chair. It
was a wheelchair, more or less like any standard wheelchair one
might find at any medical facility, as far as Frankie could
tell. It had small wheels in the front and big wheels in
the back, a padded, sling-style back and seat, armrests, and
footrests. The bonds in question were straps of black
nylon webbing, all about two inches wide. They pinned her
to the chair at her wrists, ankles, upper arms, thighs, around
her waist, and across her upper arms and chest, above her
breasts. All were tight enough to dimple her flesh, at
least a little, and she couldn't tell how they were secured to
the chair. No buckles of clamps were visible from her
Frankie continued struggling, but it was hopeless. Her
fingers groped and fluttered, but there was nothing for them to
untie or release. Her bare feet were flat on the
footrests, and with her ankles bound as they were, would remain
so. She tried twisting her upper body, but all that
accomplished was to impart a slight oscillation and bounce to
Resigned, for the moment, that she wouldn't be escaping the
wheelchair, Frankie redirected her attention to the
office. The decor was Modern, the color scheme the same as
the rest of the sanatorium, and there were the usual
bookshelves, a conversation area with sofa, easy chairs, and
coffee table, and directly in front of her, a desk with a glass
top, the usual desktop computer, nicknacks, and an empty,
throne-like office chair. There were framed certificates
and diplomas hanging on the wall, but too far away for Frankie
to read anything other than the name "Edith Kelly Stanton" in a
large, calligraphic font.
Frankie went back to trying to free herself from the
wheelchair. She tugged, twisted, and bucked for more than
a minute, but round two proved as unproductive as round one.
Suddenly, the office door opened. Frankie turned her head,
looking back over her right shoulder, and found a beautiful
woman with long red hair and a smile on her lightly freckled
face standing in the threshold. She was dressed in
high-heeled pumps, stockings or pantyhose, a stylish and
obviously expensive dress, and a white lab coat.
"Good, you're awake," the newcomer purred. "We can begin."