by Van ©2015

Chapter 1

Dramatis Personæ


Francis "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 ensemble.

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 usually did.

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.

Chapter 1

Frankie's 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 unnoticed.

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 tan.

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 nursing uniforms.

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 o
f 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.
 Frankie admired 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 computer.

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" appeared.

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 anyone.

Chapter 1

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 and surprise!

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 pretty.

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 details.

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.

Chapter 1

Frankie 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 or clamps were visible from her position.

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 her breasts.

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."

Chapter 1


Chapter 2