by Van © 2023

Chapter 2

Dramatis Personæ


The arrival of the Munro sisters at Nordberg Mansion was more like the start of a long anticipated visit by a pair of close friends than the beginning of a job.  Kenzy and Sam were used to being treated as professionals by most clients (or with skepticism by that minority of their potential employers that were still sexist fossils), but cheery smiles and effusive hugs and kisses was a novel experience.

As for the work-site... Nordberg Mansion was huge!  Thirty bedrooms?  Twenty bedrooms and a grand ballroom?  Maybe.  Time would tell.  In any case, the structure was undeniably grand in classic Gothic Revival style, with the prerequisite spires, filials, arches, lancet windows, cast-iron balustrades, etc., etc., mostly in red brick, sculpted concrete, and cast iron.  The exterior looked like it was in good shape with no obvious repair issues.  As for the roof, plumbing, wiring, heating system, fireplaces, chimneys, windows, doors, and the interior woodwork... only time would tell (as well as a detailed inspection).

Anyway, after the "Arrival Ceremony" Kenzy and Sam were given a brief tour of the most used portions of the mansion.  Next, they were assigned spacious, even luxurious bedrooms.  Fortunately, it turned out the Nordbergs did have a complete set of plans for the structure, which would kick-start their efforts, and the alleged "complete workshop" the sisters had been promised was an outbuilding with a complete suite of workstations and power tools and cabinets full of hand tools.  Everything was decades old, but by all appearances the machines had been well-maintained and were fully functional.

As for their employers... once they had a chance to compare notes the Munro sisters agreed that in terms of demeanor (and looks) they'd hit the proverbial jackpot.

Nora, the matriarch of the family and their boss-of-record, already had a prioritized list of the work she thought needed to be done; however, she'd made it clear that she was open to suggestions and emphatically agreed that a full inspection was the first priority.  Personally, she couldn't be nicer.  She invited the Munro sisters to take full advantage of the mansion's amenities—like the full-size indoor pool, the fully equipped gym, and the five miles of local running/hiking trails—and if they desired, they were more than welcome to join the family's regular yoga and Tai chi sessions.  Kenzy and Sam readily agreed.  (Neither had experience with yoga or Tai chi, but they were curious.)

Nora's niece Gabby (Gabriel) managed (helped manage) the Nordberg trust fund and other family affairs (in various manners).  She was also friendly and seemed especially eager to show Kenzy and Sam the running trails.

Danica, Nora's daughter, was initially shy, but quickly warmed to the Munros, especially Sam (who by all appearances was roughly her own age).  When Kenzy proposed they start the job by her sitting down with Nora and Gabby to go over their list of needed work while Sam conducted an initial room-by-room survey, Danica immediately volunteered to accompany Sam, man a clipboard, and take detailed notes.

"Surely it'll be good to have somebody along who already knows the place," Danica suggested.

Sam frowned (a little, probably for effect), and shrugged.  "Whatever... but don't call me Shirley."

Nora and Gabby grinned, Kenzy smiled and rolled her eyes, and Danica giggled.  The Nordberg and Munro "youngsters" were off to a good start.

Oh-by-the-way, it turned out Danica was a painter, and after seeing a few of her works the Munro sisters agreed she was really good!  Also, her art was a modest commercial success.  She had a website and her watercolors and oils were featured at three different regional galleries.  (Acting as Danica's artistic agent was one of Gabby's aforementioned family duties.)

Also oh-by-the-way, there was a fourth resident of Nordberg Mansion, a 40-something woman by the name of Kimiko Sano, and it was she who was the principal manager of the Nordberg trust fund and kept their finances organized.  Gabby readily admitted that actually she was Kimiko's assistant in most money matters.  At the moment Kimiko was on one of her regular trips to New York, but was expected to return to the mansion in a few days.  During the initial house tour Danica had shown Kenzy and Sam a stunning oil portrait she'd painted of "Kimiko-sama," and they agreed she was gorgeous, as well as impressively regal.  (Also, and not surprisingly, she was Japanese).

And although it had no real impact on their professional obligations, the Munro sisters agreed that the Nordbergs were very easy on the eyes.  Physically fit and curvaceous blondes with gorgeous features and friendly dispositions?  What wasn't to like?  Refurbishing the Nordberg Mansion looked like it was going to be great fun.

Also (and secretly), the Nordbergs agreed that the Munro sisters were very easy on the eyes.  Physically fit and curvaceous redheads with delightful dispositions and apparently oblivious of their own gorgeous good looks?  What wasn't to like?  Watching them putter around the mansion was going to be a lot of fun (as well as a unique opportunity).

The Perils of CONTRACTING  Chapter 2

The very next day the Munro sisters went to work... after a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs, toast, and coffee, of course.

Nora had given Kenzy the use the mansion's "Little Library" as her construction office (as opposed to the "Library," a two-story space that was three times its size.)  She set up her laptop and writing materials on one of the library's two reading tables and used the other to spread out the plans.   Nora and Gabby sat down with her and the three started going over the project outline in earnest.

Meanwhile, after making a show of griping and moaning about her big sister's despicable habit of making her do all the real work (which the Nordbergs found highly entertaining), Sam and her blonde assistant (Danica) departed to start on the room-by-room survey.

Sam was wearing her medium-brown steel-toed work-boots (as she was on the job), as well as turned down gray socks, a pair of "Dusty Olive" cargo-shorts (with 4" inseams), and a tank-top with horizontal pinstripes in salmon-pink, gray, and off-white (with black piping).  Her long ginger curls were pulled back in a loose ponytail enforced by a black scrunchy.  Also (as she was on the job) her tool-belt was slung across her hips, but at the moment it only held her flashlight, tape-measure, circuit tester, and a compact multi-tool.

Danica the blonde assistant was wearing sneakers, anklets, a pair of faded denim cutoffs (Daisy Dukes), and a Periwinkle-blue tank-top.  (She owned a nice pair of hiking boots, but they weren't work boots (steel-capped or otherwise) and she had no plans to procure any.)  Her hair was parted down the center and plaited in a pair of braids secured with fabric-covered elastics.  She was carrying the promised clipboard and notepad but also had a messenger-bag slung over her shoulder with pens, pencils, two additional pads, and her iPad, just in case things got unavoidably digital.

Sam thought Danica looked disgustingly girly (but in a nice way), while Danica thought Sam looked undeniably butch (but in a nice way).  Neither made their impression known to the other.

Sam (being the seasoned professional that she was and therefore in charge) decreed that they should start at the top and work their way down, but at Nordberg Mansion that was easier said than done.  They'd already consulted the general plans and, as might be expected with the complex roof-line (or roof-lines, plural) of a Gothic Revival structure, some of the spires were simply spires, while others were spires on top of low towers.  There was a veritable maze of attic spaces, some connected and some not.  Visiting each and every one would require climbing up and down a lot of staircases and traversing a lot of narrow back corridors.  Sam's guesstimate was it would take them at least the rest of the day to visit all the towers and spires on their list, and possibly a good chunk of tomorrow.

All went boringly well for the first two hours.  There was dust, even a few cobwebs, but Sam couldn't call the upper reaches of the mansion filthy; however, she could and did call the wiring they encountered antiquated and not up to present day code.  There was lighting in most spaces and power outlets in a few, but the wiring was all insufficiently secured to the exposed studs and the wires all had fabric insulation of the kind not used since... the 1940's?  Sam's recommendation to her big sister would be that all attic wiring should be ripped out and replaced using modern cabling and outlets, and with all of it installed up to code, of course.  Lighting was another matter.  The antique wiring and switches needed replacement, no question, but replacing the overhead fixtures and wall-sconces was largely a matter of style and therefore an added expense.

The bottom line was the wiring appeared to be safe—there were no warm plugs or stretches of overtly frayed insulation—but Sam wasn't happy with current running through any system that was that many decades old.  If it was Sam's gigantic mansion she'd rip it all out, at the very least.

Then, they arrived at the next tower on the list and... things changed.

This particular one-story space was atop one of the more elegant wings of the finished mansion and the door was darkly stained and artistically carved in the full-blown Gothic style and not utilitarian and starkly functional like all previous doors leading to attic spaces.  The room was circular, about twenty-five feet across, and its contents were... unusual.

A row of lancet windows with stained glass panes lined the west-facing walls and provided direct illumination.  The walls were darkly stained, like most of the finished mansion, but unlike most of the finished mansion, they weren't clad in paneling and/or wainscoting.  Basically, the walls were more vertical, horizontal, and diagonal exposed studs, but they'd all been faced with strips of carved molding.  The final result was an unusual mix of decoration and exposed structure.  The floor was polished hardwood and in reasonable condition, but it could use a good cleaning and possibly needed refinishing.  Overhead was the complex, exposed bracing of the tower's tall, narrow spire, all of which were also stained and clad in more carved molding, and at the very top was a ring of square panes (a classic architectural lantern).  It provided more light, all of it indirect, and there was an interesting pattern of light and shadow if one gazed upwards.

There was furniture, something missing in all the previously inspected attic spaces.  It was all covered with linen dust cloths, but appeared to be a pair of comfy wing-chairs, a café table and three straight chairs, and a loveseat or small sofa.  All faced the center of the room.  Against the walls and between the three seating groupings were two elaborately carved wooden wardrobes that were not shrouded by dust cloths.  Also...

Two steps into the room, Sam froze in place and stared at the back wall, her green eyes blinking and a dazed expression on her freckled face.  "What the—?"

Sam was referring to some sort of giant contraption set against the wall opposite the windows and hypothetical seated spectators.  It was an apparatus of cogwheels, escapements, ratchets, pulleys, chains, etc.  The circular elements were on the scale of bicycle or cart wheels with a few even larger; however the pulleys and chains were much smaller in scale, meaning ¾" links with specialized pulley-wheels to match.  Sam quickly figured out the operation and purpose of the mechanism... in general terms.  It served to shorten or lengthen four long chains wound on four round drums that ran through a system of pulleys across the ceiling, two on the left and two on the right.  Then, on either side, one of the chains ran down the wall and pooled on the floor while the other stretched up to the base of the spire overhead, then dangled nearly to the floor.

That was... weird... but what made it bizarre and alarming was that all four chains terminated in what were obviously hefty steel manacles or shackles!

So... clever handy-girl that she was, Sam could easily picture a hypothetical person standing in the middle of the room, directly under the peak of the spire and spotlighted by the glow of the ring of lantern-windows overhead, her wrists and ankles captured by the cuffs/manacles/shackles, and in a standing four-point spread—and the stringency of that spread would depend on however a hypothetical captor decided to turn the mechanism's main wheel and adjust the mechanism!

Her eyes still wide, Sam continued staring at the gears and chains and cuffs for several seconds... then turned to Danica and asked the logical question:  "What the hell??"

The Perils of CONTRACTING  Chapter 2

Meanwhile, down in the Little Library (aka Munro & Munro's Construction Office)...

"Before we get further into the details," Nora addressed Kenzy, "there's something you need to know.  Something of a somewhat sensitive nature."

Gabby sat back in her chair and her smile broadened.  "This is where you tell her about our Terrible Family Secret, right?"

"Gabriel," Nora purred, "please be quiet.  The adults are talking."  She was still smiling, but now a hint of a blush colored her cheeks (maybe).

Kenzy looked from client to client (gorgeous blonde to gorgeous blonde, older aunt to younger niece) and waited patiently.

Finally, Nora continued.  "A select few of our ancestors pursued an interest in what polite society would consider to be highly questionable behavior.  Nothing criminal, I assure you, but—"

"Oh, please," Gabby chuckled.  "Stop pussyfooting."  She focused her smile on Kenzy.  "They were kinky."

Kenzy blinked a few times as she smiled back.  "Kinky?"

"Kinky," Gabby nodded.  "Specifically, they were into bondage and related activities.  Nothing extreme, of course, and they were discrete and only indulged their kink with a chosen set of like-minded friends and distant relatives, but... they were definitely into it.  There are diaries and journals."

"I have them locked away in a safe place," Nora added.  "Nothing ever got out to the general public, so there were no scandals or ruined reputations, and nobody went to prison or disappeared into an insane asylum.  Anyway, some of their, uh, specialized furnishings are scattered about the mansion in little-used areas, mostly the basements."

Kenzy had control of her blinking reflex, but her smile was a little frozen  She was still a little... rattled?  Rattled was as good a term as any.  "What kind of furnishings?"

"There's a rack," Gabby said, "a bondage table, a pillory..."  She smiled at her aunt.  "What am I leaving out?"

Nora's blush was now unmistakable.  "There are also a few dungeon cells with chains and such.  I suppose we ought to have it all ripped out and carted away, but heaven knows we don't need the space.  We already have more room than we know what to do with.  Anyway, I wanted you to know the horrid stuff is there, so you'd be prepared.  I don't expect you and your sister to deal with any of it, and there's already a great deal of work already on your list, so..."  Her blue eyes popped wide.  "Oh!"

"What?" Gabby and Kenzy responded, more-or-less in unison.

"That room in the attic!  In the tower above the greenhouse wing!"  Nora focused on her niece.  "Samantha!"

"Don't worry," Gabby chuckled.  "The Princess is with her.  Danica will explain, and Sam seems like a level-headed and broad-minded youngster."  She shifted her smile to Kenzy.  "Am I right?"

Kenzy nodded in agreement... then frowned.  "Wait.  'Thing?'  What thing?"

"I'll show you later," Gabby smiled.  "It's nothing to worry about."

The Perils of CONTRACTING  Chapter 2

Meanwhile, up in the tower above the greenhouse wing...

Sam's perfectly reasonable question still hung in the air.

Danica was blushing and clearly in something of a fluster.  "Uh..."  She consulted the clipboard in her hand (for some reason)... then tucked her pencil behind her right ear, turned to face the mechanism mounted on and against the back wall... then turned back to Sam... then back to the mechanism.  "Well... Sam... there's something you need to know about my ancestors."


Danica turned back to Sam.  "They were... kinky."


Danica nodded (and continued blushing).  Clearly, she was nervous, possibly even discombobulated (slightly).  "They liked to play with, uh, stuff like..."  She indicated the gears and chains with a vague gesture.  "This."

Sam was enjoying Danica's embarrassment (but not in a mean way).  She strolled to the nearest dangling cuff, bent at the waist, and picked it up.  Perhaps "cuff" wasn't the best label for the thing.  "Bracer" or "wrist-cast" might be equally descriptive.  It was shining steel, padded on the inside with black leather, and a hypothetical wearer would first grip a padded bar, then the two thick, heavy halves of the cuff would close around her lower hands, wrists, and an inch or two beyond.  The chain was attached to the steel ring dangling from upper back of the cuff by means of a D-shaped shackle that secured with a barrel-style lock.  As for the cuff, its lock was also barrel-style, but at the moment the thing was swinging open on its hefty hinge.

"You know where the key is, right?" Sam inquired.

Smiling nervously, Danica pointed at one of the wardrobes and nodded.  "In there."

Being a ginger-haired, freckled, and mechanically-minded tomboy, Sam was curious.  Without really thinking about it, she grinned, then closed the fingers of her left hand around the cuff's hand grip, swung the cuff closed around her wrist, then pressed the slightly protruding barrel lock until it recessed into the wall of the cuff with an authoritative click!

"Sam!" Danica gasped.  "Why the hell did you do that?"

Sam smiled and shrugged.  "Just inquisitive."  She strolled to the the diffuse circle of light streaming down from the spire's lantern, taking the left chain with her, of course, then pointed to the second cuff dangling on her right.  "A little help?"

Danica blinked her blue eyes several times, then heaved a sigh, hurried to the cuff in question, picked it up, and carried it to Sam.

Sam's relocation had resulted in her left hand now loosely dangling to the side, about two feet away from her left hip.  She held out her right hand and smiled at her blonde assistant.  "Do me," she ordered, wiggling her fingers.

Danica was still semi-flustered.  "This is nuts," she whined, but did as directed, holding the cuff open so Sam could grasp the hand-grip.  She then closed the cuff and pressed the lock.  Click!

"Thanks," Sam grinned at her blonde captor.  "Now my feet."

Danica took a step back and crossed her arms under her breasts.  "This is stupid," she huffed.

"And nuts," Sam agreed, then tugged on her wrist restraints.  "It's just a demonstration."

"A stupid nuts demonstration," Danica countered, shaking her head (and causing her blond braids to sway).  "Also... I've read the family journals and diaries, and..."  She indicated Sam with another vague, fluttering gesture.  "This is wrong.  You're doing it wrong.  You're supposed to be completely naked."  She then pointed at Sam's feet.  "Anyway, it's obvious the shackles are too small to close over your boot-tops."

Sam was still smiling.  "Too late to get totally naked, unless you're gonna rip off my tank-top, but please don't.  I like this one."  She lifted her right leg.  "As for my boots, the solution is obvious."

Still blushing (and semi-flustered), Danica rolled her blue eyes, heaved a sigh, turned her back, and tucked Sam's lower leg under her right arm.  She quickly dealt with the boot's double bow, loosened its laces, then slid the boot from Sam's pointing foot, dropped the boot to the floor, and pulled off her prisoner's sock.

Still smiling, Sam wiggled her toes.  Danica released her leg and she planted her foot on the hardwood floor, lifted her left leg, and Danica removed her left boot and sock.  Sam continued watching as Danica scampered to her left and returned with the left shackle and chain, which she closed and locked around Sam's left ankle.  Click.  Sam noted three things:
1.  Danica was very graceful and cute when she scampered, especially with her hair in a pair of bouncing golden braids.

2.  Like the cuff/bracers on her wrists, the ankle-cuff was thick, wide, and well-padded with black leather, but unlike the wrist-restraints, it was a "regular" cuff, shackle, or fetter that simply closed and locked around her ankle.

3.  The chain was long enough that she was able to continue standing with her feet only slightly apart.
Sam continued watching as Danica secured her right ankle in the right cuff.  Click.

"There," Danica stated.  Her smile had returned, but she was still blushing (a little).  She gathered Sam's boots, stuffed the socks inside.  Then, still smiling, she unbuckled and removed Sam's tool-belt, spun on her sneaker-clad heels, and carried the boots, socks, and tool-belt to the doorway and lined them up against the wall.

Sam remained behind in the center of the room (of course) in the diffuse but literal spotlight.  She was unable to bring her hands any closer together unless she raised her arms and lifted the chains higher; however, with her fingers still gripping the hand-grips, they were functionally useless for purposes of escape.  Also, the chains were increasingly heavy when she lifted her arms.

Meanwhile, Danica had strolled to the back wall and had a firm grip on what was obviously the Master Hand-Wheel.  "Ready?" she purred.

"Ready for what?" Sam responded.  She was facing the lancet windows, comfy-but shrouded spectator seating, and the two wardrobes, so the machine was behind her back, requiring her to look back over her shoulder to see what Danica was up to.  She noted that while the blonde was still a little nervous, she didn't seem to be as flustered as she'd been before.

"Ready for this," Danica clarified, then began turning the wheel.  All of the machine's gear-wheels began turning at different rates and the ratchet mechanisms making noise.  Click-click-click-click-click...  As designed, the chains shortened as they were wound onto the four drums.  In addition to all the spinning and clacking, heavy counterweights were slowly dropping, augmenting Danica's efforts with a gravity assist.  Clearly, it was no great challenge for the blonde to turn the wheel.

As for Sam...  Click-click-click-click-click...  as the chains shortened link-by-link... her arms were being slowly raised from what had only technically been a spreadeagle into the genuine article!  Also, her legs were being inexorably pulled apart.... and soon Sam's predicament was a full-blown conventional "X"-shaped standing spreadeagle... with a stringent standing spreadeagle clearly on the horizon!  Sam considered making some sort of formal protest, but she was the one who had wanted to play this game, and she didn't want Danica to think she was a wimp.

Click-click-click.  "That should do it," Danica said as she stopped turning the wheel, threw a lever—Thunk!—and a block dropped to lock the mechanism.

This was a good thing, because Sam's bare heels were now off the floor, she was in a definite four-point stretch, and was seriously reconsidering her stoic-silence/non-complaining policy.

Smiling sweetly (and now with only the slightest hint of a rose blush coloring her cheeks), Danica strolled to Sam's right... carefully stepped over the lower chain and easily avoiding the upper chain... and once again was standing in front of Sam with her arms crossed under her breasts.  "It's still not right," she said.

Sam tugged on her wrist cuff-bracers and smiled back.  "What?"  She tugged on her wrists again.  "We already talked about the naked part.  Stretched isn't enough?"

"You're supposed to be gagged," Danica explained.

Sam blinked, once, then reasserted her totally unconcerned, perfectly casual smile.  "Why?"

"Why?"  Danica's smile took a slightly sinister twist (or maybe it was Sam's imagination).  "To stifle your screaming, of course," Danica purred.  "Screaming can be so tedious and annoying... or so my great grandmother wrote in her diary."  She spun on her sneaker-clad heels and strolled towards the right wardrobe, swinging her hips in a brazenly seductive manner (although that might also have been Sam's imagination).

Anyway, Danica swung open the right door of the wardrobe... and Sam could clearly see a dozen or more leather and steel things hanging on hooks in neat rows.  Of course, what the things actually were she had no idea.  ...  Okay, they were all gags!  Sam wasn't particularly well-acquainted with bondage paraphernalia, but even she recognized a row of five ball-gags with progressively larger spherical mouth-plugs—three different panel-gags (one with a chin cup, one with a chin-strap, and one without)—and what she thought were two different and complicated head-harness arrangements.  Both had mouth-flaps with underlying mouth-filling plugs, and one also had a dangling blindfold-strap!

Meanwhile, Danica had lifted a shiny steel something-or-other off a hook, closed the wardrobe door, and was strolling back.  As she got closer Sam could clearly see that the something in question was also a gag.  It had a bit, covered with what was probably black leather, and a "strap" that was a semicircular steel band.  Obviously, once in place the whole thing would form a "D" with Sam biting down on the leather bit and the band locked around her head to keep her from spitting it out!

Sam frowned and shook her head.  "No.  No way.  How long has that thing been hanging in there?  The leather probably tastes... yucky."

Danica turned the bit-gag in her hands.  "Probably," she agreed, then her smile brightened, she reached into the right rear-pocket of her cutoffs, and pulled out a neatly folded cotton bandana.  It was powder-blue with the traditional white floral print.

Sam watched as Danica opened the bandana into one long four-part folded strip, then began wrapping it around the black leather padding of the bit.  Her plan was obvious... and ominous.

"Danica, no," Sam objected.  "Don't you dare—mrrrph!  MRRRRRF!"

"There, problem solved," Danica grinned as she thrust the now doubly-padded bit into Sam's mouth and between her teeth, then closed the band around her head and against the nape of her neck!  Sam's swaying and flopping ginger ponytail had been easily avoided.  The left side of the bit opened on a cleverly hidden hinge and the right held the housing of yet another barrel-style lock.  Once in place—Click!—it was one solid unit, and thankfully, was well within the size-range of a squirming, complaining, head-tossing, truly pissed-off damsel of Sam Munro's measurements.  It wasn't too tight, but Sam could tell that forcing the thing out of her mouth without someone (Danica) unlocking the band-strap was manifestly impossible.

"NRRRM!"  Sam's furious green eyes shot imaginary, razor-sharp, viridescent copper-alloy and knapped jade daggers at her blonde assistant and now captor!  The combination of wrapped bandana and no doubt yucky leather bit made for an effective gag.  She just hoped Danica let her go long before her spit soaked through the bandana and filled her mouth with rancid-leather-flavored soup.  She kicked her fettered feet, twisted her hips, tugged on her wrist-cuff/bracers, and continued staring imaginary sharp blades.  The chains swayed... but were too taut to rattle.

Danica was smiling (meaning gloating).  "Wow.  You're really stuck, aren't you?"

Sam didn't dignify her captor's question with an unintelligible answer, and since the phantasmal knives weren't working, she shifted to imaginary ocular laser-beams (green, of course).  Unfortunately, they proved to be just as ineffective.  Danica continued smiling and gloating.  Sam supposed she could radically shift her approach and whimper and moan while struggling in a pitiful, sympathy-engendering manner, but tomboys don't whimper!  Sam continued glaring.

"You seem unhappy," Danica chuckled.  Her blue eyes were sparkling and her smile was irritatingly gorgeous.  Her former nervousness had completely vanished.

Sam silently fumed, but then again, if somehow she did manage to satisfy her lust for lethal imaginary revenge... Danica would be lying dead on the hardwood floor and she'd still be spreadeagled and gagged.  She heaved a gagged sigh, gave her wrist-cuffs one last tug... then cocked her gagged head to the right and mewled what she hoped was an unmistakable request to be released.  "Mrrrf."

Danica got the message.  She might be a gorgeous but treacherous trickster, but she wasn't stupid.  "Okay, okay," she chuckled.  "Wait here while I get the key."  She then spun on her sneakers and scampered back to the right wardrobe.

Sam heaved another gagged-sigh and rolled her green eyes.  'Wait here.'  Hilarious.

Danica opened the wardrobe's right door, again.  Before, Sam had been focused on the array of gags, but now she noticed a vertical column of small, cubbyhole-size drawers inside the wardrobe and against the closed left door.  She suspected the drawers acted as a divider between the gags on the right and whatever was still hidden on the left.  Danica turned, struck a disgustingly charming pose, indicated one of the drawers with a graceful flip of both hands, and smiled.  The drawer in question was about eye-level and its pull was in the shape of a horizontal skeleton key.

In Sam's fuming, spreadeagled, and gagged opinion, the winsome blonde had never looked cuter.  Also, Sam really wanted to give her a good smack up the side of her comely head.

"Taa-dah!" Danica declaimed, then took hold of the pull and slid open the drawer.  That was her intent, anyway.  The drawer didn't budge.  Danica frowned and pulled harder.  The drawer still didn't budge.  "It's heavy," she complained, apparently for Sam's benefit.  "Either that or it's stuck."  She took hold with both hands and tried again.  This time the drawer did slide, but only about a half-inch.  "Geesh, what's in this thing?"  She pulled harder, and—"Oh!—quickly jumped back in alarm!

The drawer had abruptly slid all the way out, fallen to the floor, broken into three or more pieces, and scattered what had to be more than a hundred barrel-lock keys across the floor!

Crash-crunch-tinkle-k'ching-ping-ping-ping... ping.

Danica stared down at the multitude of keys... then turned and stared at Sam, blinking her blue eyes in astonishment (see also dismay), then knelt and started sorting through the gleaming metallic pile... picking up the keys one at a time and examining them... then dropping them again.

"They're all different!" she whined.

From the middle of the room (in a standing spreadeagle and gagged) all Sam could tell was that the keys all appeared to be of the barrel-lock variety, the same size, and were shining steel.  She'd have to take her blonde captor's word for it that they weren't actually identical.

Danica continued sorting through the keys.  "Different numbers," she whimpered.  "No labels!  No tags.  There's just supposed to be one key!"  She turned to face Sam.  "What should I do?  I'll have to try them one by one!  That'll take... forever!"

Sam tugged on her wrists (for no good reason).  Her nefarious abductor seemed to be on the verge of tears... which was incredibly cute but did nothing to help find the right key.

Suddenly, Danica stood, took a step away from the scattered keys and probably irreparably damaged drawer, then turned to face Sam.

"I know what to do!" Danica announced, then turned and scampered out of the room, closing the door behind her.  Thud.

Sam watched as Danica made her exit—then sighed, blinked her green eyes, and tugged on her wrist-bracer-cuffs, causing the attached chains stretching up to the pulley's overhead to sway a few times.

I guess the suggestion that I should 'wait here' still applies, she decided.

The Perils of CONTRACTING  Chapter 2


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