"I don't care
                *what* she says, that can *not* be 'comfortable'."
T H E     B O N D A G E     I S     O U T    T H E R E
by Van ©2009
___ ___

Chapter 1

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After two days of torment, she was almost too exhausted to care about what was being done to her—almost, but not quite.

Naked, her tired, sore body glistening with sweat and her hair hanging in a damp, tangled mass, she was standing upright, in the back of a tiny, shallow alcove, in the basement of an old building, somewhere in the city.  Thick, heavy, and rather medieval manacles, shackles, belt, and collar made sure she remained as she had been positioned by her captors—arms raised, legs splayed, and spreadeagled against the hard, rough wall.  Heavy spikes had been hammered into the gaps between the ancient bricks, securing the short lengths of chain connected to the cold iron bands imprisoning her wrists, ankles, waist, and neck.  The arrangement offered her very little slack.  She tugged on her wrists, twisted her body, and tried to kick her legs, but her only reward was the quiet clinking and rattling of the iron links and the scrape of her inescapable fetters as they slid against the wall.

She would have complained, and she certainly would have screamed for help, but for the linen cloth stuffed in her mouth.  A tightly folded linen bandage held it in place, cleaving her lips and pulled tight until her cheeks bulged, then knotted under her hair at the nape of her neck.

She watched in terror as her captors completed the final task of her humiliation and torment.  Brick by brick, carefully laying down a bed of mortar and buttering the ends before tapping each brick in place, one of her three kidnappers was sealing the front of the alcove.  Row by row, a wall was rising—a wall that would forever separate the prisoner from the world of light and life.  The alcove was becoming her tomb.

The other two kidnappers were watching, one standing with hands on hip, and the other using a TV camera to capture her fate.  As always, all three were dressed in skintight costumes of black leather, including boots, gloves, and hoods.  Also, as always, their features were hidden behind black masks sculpted in the visages of beautiful women.  The masks were the type seen at a Venetian carnevale, only without the usual feathers or other decorations.

A half-dozen small candles had been placed on the floor on the captive's side of the wall, and her helpless body glistened in their pale, yellow light as she tugged on her bonds and mewled through her gag. 

Time passed... brick by brick and row by row... and eventually, the wall was nearly complete.  The entire front of the alcove, all the way up to the top of the arch, was now solid brick, except for a small opening directly in front of her face... and now, even this was disappearing as the final bricks were tapped in place, one by one.

The kidnapper with the camera stepped closer, capturing the prisoner's face as her companion fitted the final bricks.  The captive watched as the gap closed—as the thick, sandy mortar oozed and tiny clumps fell to splatter the floor and her naked feet—as she was forever sealed off from the world.

Finally, space for only one brick remained.  She stared into the lens of the cruel camera, struggling to control her rising panic—and then the brick slid into the gap, and all she could see was the rough face of the uncaring wall, inches from her face, softly lit by the flickering candles below.  She pulled on her chains, put her head back, and screamed into her gag.
The B-Files
Chapter 1

Special Agent Dana Scully
On a clear day, the windows of this Crystal City office tower provided a "magnificent" view of the runways and commercial aviation hangers of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.  A large percentage of this and the neighboring buildings were leased to various Departments of the Federal Government, and any number of bureaucrats would have given their proverbial eye teeth for such a nice set of digs... but not the current occupant.

Dana Scully, Special Agent , Federal Bureau of Investigation, was in exile, and she knew it.  Agent in Charge of a task force of federal and state law enforcement, formed to capture a cunning international master-criminal?  It ought to be a plum assignment, a stepping stone to bigger, better, and more important service, but Scully's allies in the Bureau had warned her of the true situation.  She was being set up to fail, along with her subordinates.  The task force was a "Leper Colony", a dumping ground for "troublesome females", and Scully was the Head Leper.  All the members of her team were gifted and experienced investigators (with the exception of the rookie, who was only gifted).  However, in the course of the honorable performance of their duties, they had all made powerful (and vindictive) enemies in their respective chains of command.

In Scully's case, it was retribution for her involvement in "The X-Files".  Together with her partner, Fox Mulder, they had uncovered more than a few "inconvenient truths", things that powerful individuals would just as soon had remained buried.  Scully was no longer part of the X-Files, and her association with Mulder was tenuous, at the moment, but the damage was done.  She knew she'd never escape the fallout from having been "Spooky Mulder's accomplice".  From now on, her career at the Bureau would be "unconventional", at best, but she wasn't about to quit.  The work was just too important.

Scully glanced at her watch.  She had a little time before the next all hands meeting, but not much.  She gazed at the stack of folders on the left side of her desk, summary copies of the personnel folders of her team.  She'd already studied them all in great detail, but she decided to give them one more look.  She opened the first folder and scanned the contents.

———————— 1 ———————Special Agent Gracie Hart, being

(1)  Gracie Hart, Special Agent, F.B.I.  Scully's second in command of the task force.  A bit of a loose cannon, but an outstanding individual in any situation that needed a little wiggle room to get things done.  This was "unfortunate", because some supervisors, especially the risk-averse politicos, were obsessed with doing things "by the book"; but the book didn't catch the bad guys.  Procedure was derived from the accumulated work of resourceful, talented Agents who pushed the envelope, focusing on the goals of protecting the innocent and apprehending perps in a manner that allowed for righteous convictions.  Following procedure was well and good, but all too often it was not a sufficient means to those ends.  An agent needed to be able to recognize when and how to diverge from the book, while still preserving the letter and spirit of the law.  Gracie Hart was just such an agent; but she'd landed center stage in a pair of very high profile cases, and while she'd handled both to successful conclusions, she had done so in an unconventional (and highly public) manner.  Since one case involved going undercover as a contestant at a national beauty pageant, and the other as a Vegas showgirl, this had been unavoidable and should hardly have come as a surprise for the powers-that-be in the Bureau and DoJ.

Scully frowned.  It was bonehead, counterproductive sexism of the worst kind.  A male agent could go undercover as a Mafia, drug cartel, or KKK scumbag, live the life for years, and come out the other end as a Hero-of-the-Bureau.  Gracie Hart, on the other hand, had portrayed the Bureau in an "unfavorable light" by prancing around in "unprofessional" and "scandalous attire" before the public.  Most damning of all, she had seemed to enjoy herself while doing it!  Morons.  That was the assignment.  And she'd solved both cases.  That didn't prevent certain good-ol'-boys from putting an invisible black spot on her record, of course.

In any case, Gracie was an asset to any team, and Scully felt lucky to have her.  She opened a drawer of her desk and dropped Gracie's file inside.

———————— 1 ———————Inspector Lindsay Boxer, SFPD

(2)  Lindsay Boxer, Inspector, San Francisco Police Department, recently transferred from a Homicide desk to the S.F.P.D.'s Special Investigation Section.  She had an outstanding record, marred by only a few complaints for the use of "excessive force", all involving apprehended suspects who had since become convicted felons.  All the incidents had been investigated and dismissed.  So, why was Inspector Boxer in Scully's Leper Colony?  The inside word was she was too chummy with certain members of the press, the San Francisco City Attorney's office, and other municipal bureaus.  And certain members of the Mayor's staff didn't like it.

Typical, Scully huffed.  A man cultivates professional contacts and he's 'networking'.  A woman does the same, and she's 'organizing a hen-party'.

But there had to be more to it than that.  San Francisco's S.I.S. had a checkered past, a reputation for being far too political and ideological, especially during the late 60's and early 70's (about the same time the Bureau was having its own problems with the Bill of Rights and other pesky impediments to implementing J. Edgar's personal agenda).  Subsequent administrations had cleaned house, in San Francisco and D.C., but there were still too many skeletons in too many closets.  Scully shook her head.  Problems always accumulated when you gave a politician (or a bureaucrat) what amounted to a private police force, especially without putting strong institutional safeguards in place to prevent abuse.

Lindsay Boxer had rubbed somebody in power the wrong way, or stoked their paranoia to the point that they pulled strings and got her "promoted" to a dead end task force on the other side of the country.

In any case... Scully was very glad to have Lindsay on the team.  It was San Francisco's loss—San Francisco's temporary loss—as far as she was concerned.  Lindsay's file went in the drawer.

———————— 1 ———————Detective Megan Wheeler, NYPD

(3)  Megan Wheeler, Detective, NYPD, Major Crimes Unit.  She had just joined the task force, and while not as experienced as Boxer, her record was equally impressive.  After a successful tour as a beat cop (despite her slight build and the fact that she had girlish, freckled features that could let her pass as a High School student), she'd distinguished herself during a mysterious "International Investigation".   It could have been anything from counter-terrorism to customs enforcement, but, whatever it was, it was so hush-hush Scully lacked the clearance to unseal that part of her record, even though she was her current supervisor.  Next for Wheeler had come a transfer to the Major Crimes Unit, home for the NYPD's most brilliant investigators.  Once there, she had been a part of one successful investigation after another.

So, what had gotten Wheeler assigned to Scully's task force?  Apparently, she was caught in the middle of a pair of conflicting Federal investigations, one involving her boyfriend, who might or might not be guilty of international financial skulduggery, and the other, the pursuit of a possibly corrupt Manhattan Assistant District Attorney.  The A.D.A. was very well connected, and had a reputation for utter ruthlessness, and it was she who had implicated Wheeler's boyfriend in wrongdoing.

One team of F.B.I. Agents was pressuring Wheeler's boyfriend to turn on his fat cat business associates, while a totally separate team was investigating the A.D.A.  Both groups were convinced the cases were linked, but they also seemed convinced that Wheeler was an innocent bystander.

NYPD's Chief of Detectives was also of the opinion that Wheeler was clean, and the assignment to Washington was a way to get her out of Manhattan and above the infighting.  Conveniently, it also filled an open "Cooperative Staffing" slot and qualified the NYPD for a nice chunk of Homeland Security funds, so... Wheeler was on the next Amtrak south before she knew what was happening.

Scully was impressed with Wheeler from the moment she arrived, which had been only yesterday, and considered her an asset to the team.  Next file...

———————— 1 ———————Special Agent Veronica Mars, F.B.I.

(4)  Veronica Mars, Special Agent, F.B.I.—brand new Special Agent, F.B.I.  The task force was her first posting, straight out of Quantico.  Scully had done a stint as a lecturer at the Academy, and she knew how to read between the lines of a student record, which was just about the only thing in Agent Mars' file.  She had "High-Average" grades, with a scattering of "Outstandings".  Good marksmanship.  Good physical skills, despite her slight build.  Scully smiled, remembering the fun she'd had making that particular grade at Quantico, getting her five-foot-two self tossed around the mat by a six-foot ex-Army Ranger combat instructor, running that hellish obstacle course and those endless, muddy running trails... and she had a good inch (and a couple of pounds) on Mars.   Anyway, despite her high objective marks, "The Rookie's" class ranking was just barely in the top third.  Scully had made a few phone calls to learn the truth, and it turned out Veronica Mars was something of a smart-ass.  She didn't suffer fools gladly, had a sharp, devastating wit, and seemed to take an absolute delight in deflating inflated egos.  Nothing a little seasoning wouldn't cure, but several of her Instructors hadn't seen it that way, and had undermined her ranking in their confidential evaluations, using faint praise and "code words" that translated to the dreaded "might not be one of us" tag.

Mars had chosen Scully's task force over the only other graduation assignment she'd been offered—manning a desk in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building and grinding through the endless backlog of background checks of Federal employees who needed security clearances.  Scully had served a brief tour in the "Phone-bank Gulag", next to Mulder.  Certain senior F.B.I. officials had been trying to break their spirits and get them to resign.  They hadn't, and eventually, the political winds blowing through the top floors shifted, and they were "forgiven" and reassigned to tasks more commensurate with their talents.

So far, Special Agent Mars had impressed Scully as bright, hardworking, and eager to get into the field... and she was a smart-ass.  Scully smiled.  She'd worked with Fox Mulder.  "Smart-ass" rolled off her back like wet off a duck.  Mars would do just fine.  She dropped the Rookie's file in the drawer and reached for the last remaining folder.

———————— 1 ———————Investigatrice Speciale Claudia Bosco, INTERPOL

5) Claudia Bosco, Investigatrice Speciale of Italy's Raggruppamento Operativo Speciale, the division of the Carabinieri that was more-or-less equivalent to the F.B.I.

Scully's international contacts hadn't been able to tell her much more about the sultry brunette than what was in the file in her hands... which wasn't much.  Claudia Bosco had been on the trail of their main target for years, going so far as to request a posting to INTERPOL when it became clear the R.O.S. was willing to let the Italian part of the complex case go cold.  Bosco had had some sort of encounter with their quarry, the mysterious "Bondarella", early in her career, and seemed willing to follow the investigation to the ends of the earth... including Washington D.C and membership in Scully's Leper Colony.

She seemed dedicated, intelligent, and worked well with the others... although her pursuit of Bondarella did seem to be something of a vendetta.

And who exactly was this "Bondarella", the raison d'êntre for the task force and the object of Claudia's obsession?

Nobody knew, and that was most of the problem.  She seemed to be able to snatch high profile targets at will, then cover her tracks with such consummate skill that the authorities were left with nothing to follow up.  Not even her victims could provide a physical description of Bondarella or her accomplices, other than that they were all definitely female.

Scully frowned at Claudia's photo.  The case summary said Bosco was captured during the rescue of an opera singer from the "Bondarella Gang", and was released three days later, unharmed.  There were vague references to "humiliation and discomfort" while in her captors' hands, but no details.  At some point, Scully knew she was going to have to get the full story of everything that had happened.  You never knew what tiny detail would make some connection and break a case wide open.  She wasn't looking forward to making Claudia relive her ordeal, but she was the only person this side of the Atlantic who had been in Bondarella's actual presence... as far as they knew.

Scully dropped Bosco's file in the drawer with the others, then turned the lock and slid the key into her jacket pocket.  She wished she had the travel budget to send her team to interview Bondarella's other known victims, but it wasn't going to happen.  They'd have to make do with the files provided by INTERPOL and the national police agencies involved, such as they were.

Scully glanced at her watch, again.  It was time for the meeting, the main purpose of which was to brief Wheeler, the new arrival, with everything they knew about their quarry.
The B-Files
Chapter 1
Scully entered the conference room to find her team already assembled, with the exception of The Rookie.  She took her seat at the head of the table.

Gracie leaned close to whisper in Scully's ear.  "The N.S.A. finally came through with something.  It's not much, but it's something."

"Time sensitive?" Scully inquired.

Gracie shrugged.  "Not especially."

"Wait 'til the appropriate moment," Scully responded, then focused on Megan Wheeler, and smiled.  "All moved in?"

Megan smiled.  "I'm in the same 'Per Diem Palace' as Inspector Boxer."  The Beltway area was lousy with studio-type motel/hotels that catered to people with temporary business in Washington, and almost all of them had some sort of leasing agreement with the Feds.  "It's clean, comfortable, and convenient to I-395."

"I've stayed in worse," Lindsay drawled.

"Let me know if either of you need anything," Scully said, then nodded to Claudia.

The sultry brunette (and there was no other way to describe the Italian) nodded back.  "Bene.  The purpose of this meeting is to have, how you say, the 'clearing house'?"

"Close enough," Gracie muttered.  Claudia spoke English with only a trace of an accent, but she was still mastering American idioms.

"Prego," Claudia continued.  "The clearing house."  She smiled at Megan.  "I know you have started reading the files, but I give the summary and also some new information."  She tapped a key on her laptop and a large flat-screen monitor across the room came to life.  The inevitable PowerPoint presentation began.  The first slide was a summary table of all that was known about the case.

"The Bondarella Gang consists of at least three members, all female," Claudia lectured.  "There may be more, but three is the most that have been seen together at one time.  They always appear masked and in a variety of costumes, all bizzarro."

"Meaning kinky," Lindsay clarified.  "Leather and latex, skintight, often showing lots of skin, but no tattoos or other distinguishing features have ever been noted."

"Essatamente," Claudia confirmed.  "They have made more than a dozen known abductions over the last eight years, all in Europe, but there have probably been more.  Actresses, singers, TV presenters, all diva.  They never ask for ransom, and the victim is always released unharmed, but only after they have been subjected to... ordeals... which are documented and broadcast over the internet to paying customers."

"I still don't get this part," Megan interrupted.

"Pay-per-view bondage porn," Gracie responded.  "What's not to understand?"

"For starters," Megan continued, "why aren't the sites shut down as quickly as they appear?  Why aren't their so called 'customers' in jail?  At the very least, why haven't the ISP's involved been subpoenaed and their records used to trace the kidnappers?"

"Not for lack of effort," Claudia said.  "They are very sofisticato.  Computer crime units across the E.U. have tried to trace the technological and financial arrangements, without success.  They still try.  It is like the hydra.  As quick as you cut off the head, another grows."  She changed the slide.

"One complication is that there are two tiers of customers.  The lower tier subscribe to sites that show image and video files of the abductions, but only well after they have happened.  Many of these customers have been identified and interviewed, and all believe, or claim to believe, that they are watching actresses portraying the victim.  They think it is the pretend drama."

"The upper tier is poorly understood, and largely speculative," Claudia continued.  "Someone or some group is, how you say, 'bankrolling' the abductions.  From the victims' accounts, they provide instructions, via computer, during the ordeals, and even remotely trigger the events."

"And by 'ordeals'," Megan asked, "you mean whipping, tickling, and what is called... 'predicament bondage'?"

Lindsay nodded.  "To bind someone in a situation of stress and discomfort.  Devising creative contortions is considered something of an art form among the bondage crowd."  She noticed the others' curious stares and smiled.  "Uh, ya hear about stuff like that in San Francisco," she drawled.

"New York, on the other hand," Megan chuckled, "has no kinky community."

Scully suppressed a smile, and cleared her throat.  "I believe you're prepared to brief the latest abduction in more detail?"

Claudia nodded.  "Yes, I have new material, just arrived from my contact in New Scotland Yard... more material about a case than we have ever had, before."  She tapped a key and the slide changed to a photograph of a quite attractive young woman.
The B-Files
Chapter 1
Lady Andromeda Cargill, Age 19."Who is that?" Gracie asked.

"Lady Andromeda Cargill, of course," a new voice announced.

It was Veronica Mars, entering the conference room with a cardboard drink carrier holding six Starbucks cups.

"Forget to set your watch?" Gracie Hart inquired, in a dry voice.

The Rookie was not in the least bit flustered by Gracie's disapproval.  "The place was a zoo.  I suppose I could have flashed my ID and bumped the line, but that would have been an unconscionable abuse of authority, don't you agree?"

For some reason, this brought a blush to Special Agent's Hart's cheeks (and shut her mouth).

Carefully noting the scribbling and check-marks on each of the cups, Veronica distributed the drinks.  "What have I missed?"

"Nothing you don't already know," Scully answered, and nodded to Claudia.

Claudia paused to sip her drink, then frowned and mumbled something under her breath.

"Did I get it wrong?" Veronica asked with a frown.

Claudia shook her head.  "Americans do not know how to make the coffee," she muttered, then cleared her throat and focused on the screen.  "Lady Andromeda Cargill," she confirmed, "here shown on the BBC, being interviewed on a, how you say, 'chat show'?"

"That's what the Brits call them," Lindsay confirmed.  "We say 'talk show'.  I take it she's famous?"

"Don't you read magazines or watch the E! network?"  Veronica demanded.

"Enlighten me," Lindsay drawled.

"Childhood actress," Veronica responded, nodding at the screen.  "'Lady Andra', as they call her, hosted a popular kiddie show a while back.  Supposedly, she's about to start working on a degree.  The tabloids and the paparazzi have tried following her around, but they've more or less given her up as a hopeless case."

"A hopeless case?" Scully inquired.

"She's useless for their purposes," Veronica explained.  "Level headed, not a party girl, doesn't get wasted with her friends and wreck cars... a role model for talented young hotties everywhere.  Useless."

"And she was kidnapped by Bondarella?" Megan asked.  "She looks young, compared to the other victims.  How old is she?"

"Lady Andi" at London Fashion Week"I believe the Signorina is about to turn twenty," Claudia answered.  "At the time of her abduction, she was eighteen, and that does make her Bondarella's youngest vittima."  She tapped a key and the slide changed, to show the Signorina in question seated at some public event.  "Lady Cargill at London Fashion Week," she explained.

"So why haven't we heard about this?" Veronica asked.  "A famous celeb like Lady Andra gets herself kidnapped?  It'd be all over the news, worldwide."

"The authorities do their best to keep the Bondarella abductions out of the press," Claudia answered, "to protect the victims.  As you can see from the case files, press participation in the investigations would be of little value.  All potential witnesses are canvased and interviewed, of course, but no announcements are made to the general public."

"Still," Lindsay drawled, "with multiple, high-profile victims and multiple police agencies involved, you'd think something would have leaked out by now."

"The victims all have powerful, well-connected friends," Scully reminded the group.

"Essatamente," Claudia nodded.  "Also, in point of fact, much of the 'lower tier' material has leaked out; but they are thought to be, how you say... the manipulations?"

"Everything I've seen in the files does look like it could have been PhotoShopped," Lindsay added.

"Kinda clever," Veronica said.  "Implausible deniability.  The victims and their friends get to keep things quiet, and the gang gets an added revenue stream from their crimes, on top of what they're getting through their 'upper tier' arrangements.  'Kidnapped?  Not me!  Never happened!  This stuff is fake!'  Clever."

"In any case," Claudia said, grimly, "what I show you later is undeniably real.  I believe it is the first 'upper tier' material ever discovered."

"Can you hear me now?"Claudia tapped a key and changed the slide.  This time, 'Lady Andra' was walking in the midst of a city crowd, and was talking on her cell phone.  "Even when the paparazzi are present and surveillance cameras are covering the area," Claudia lectured, "the abductions always seem to happen as if by the magic, and such was the case with the Lady Cargill.  She was near her flat in London, hailed the cab, and was not seen again for three days."

"Wait," Gracie objected.  "Surveillance.  Why didn't they use London's famous street cameras to trace the cab?  At the very least, that should have narrowed the search area."

Claudia shook her head.  "Sadly, Signorina Cargill was not missed for many hours, and by that time, her kidnappers had too great of a lead."

"What did they do to her?" Veronica asked, quietly.

There was an uneasy pause while Claudia opened her briefcase and pulled out a thick folder.  "This is the new material I spoke of," she said, and began distributing glossy color photographs.  All showed a very naked and helplessly bound Andromeda Cargill in various poses and predicaments.

The investigators gazed at the photos with grim expressions, and began passing them around the table.

"As you can see," Claudia lectured, "she was bound in various positions and whipped with the multi-tail floggers, tormented with what is called the Wartenburg Wheel..."  She pointed at a photograph of a spur-like wheel with needle-sharp points and mounted on a handle.  It was being rolled across one of Lady Andra's naked breasts by a gloved hand.  "They also used the feathers and the artist's brushes to tickle the feet, and several vibrators to... uh... further torment the young lady.  At night, she was placed in a straitjacket and confined in a small cage."

"Bastards!" Lindsay whispered under her breath.

Scully pointed to the photo in her hand.  It was a closeup of Andromeda's face.  She was gagged with a wad of white linen held in place by a narrowly folded scarf, and was peering through a small gap in a wall of bricks.  "And this?"

Claudia sighed.  "After two days, they chained her in the back of a small alcove in a dark basement and, how you say... walled her up?"

Horrified silence hung in the air.

"She was terrified, of course," Claudia continued, after several seconds.

"She thought she was being entombed... alive," Veronica gasped.

"Yes," Claudia confirmed.  "But Bondarella made sure she would be found, posting instructions to multiple interested parties, so Lady Cargill was rescued after only a few hours in her... tomb."

"It's part of her profile," Scully muttered.  "She delights in tormenting and frightening her victims, but she's always very careful to make sure they are not physically harmed and takes elaborate measures to ensure they're rescued."

"Lady Cargill is unharmed," Claudia confirmed, "and seems to have completely recovered from her experience."

"One tough cookie," Veronica nodded, gazing at a photo of the Lady in question having her feet tickled by a camel hair brush.  She was strapped down on some sort of padded table, with her ankles locked in a pair of heavy stocks.  She was struggling with all her strength and straining against the straps, and her body was flushed and gleaming with sweat.  Her eyes were wide, tears were streaming down her face, and she was screaming into the leather gag covering her mouth.  Veronica shuddered and tossed the photo across the table, returning it to Claudia.

"All of these are obviously real," Lindsay note, indicating the print in her hand, "and not manipulations."

"'Upper tier' material, like I say," Claudia confirmed.  "All of this is from a rented office in London.  It would appear Scotland Yard reached the location just as the occupants fled, and these photos were on a laptop they left behind."

"The Metropolitan Police Computer Crime Unit examined the laptop," Scully added.  "They found nothing directly actionable on the Lady Cargill case, but they did find links suggesting recent arrangements for travel to the U.S."

"Hence the formation of this task force," Lindsay said.

Scully nodded, then turned to Gracie.  "Your nuggets from the N.S.A.?"

Gracie cleared her throat.  "I suppose you could call them that."  She lifted her notepad and tapped a folder.  "Based on international phone intercepts, we have a list of local business locations that may, and I stress may, be linked to information recovered from the London laptop."

"I don't suppose they'd be willing to share the full details of everything they've discovered," Lindsay drawled.

Gracie snorted in disgust.  "Need to know, nondisclosure of means and methods, don't ask and don't tell the Senate oversight committee... that sort of thing.  Remember how they work, mining data about things they probably don't fully understand, and doing it in ways they don't want us to understand."

"Also," Scully added, "the Bondarella case is very low on the list of Homeland Security's priorities, like all non-political law enforcement matters.  Between the special handling being afforded Bondarella's victims and the lack of cooperation between the different agencies involved—"  She paused to smile at Claudia.  "No offense, Signorina," she apologized.

"None taken" Claudia smiled back.  "I also am frustrated by the way the case is treated by INTERPOL and the others."

"Anyway," Scully continued, "we're lucky to get any sort of a mandate."

"It's all C.Y.A.," Veronica huffed.  "If a celeb does get snatched, and this time it leaks, and the press learns the higher-ups knew it might happen and did nothing?  That's why we're here, to cover their collective asses... and to take the fall if we fail."

"It's sad to see such cynicism in one so young," Lindsay drawled, and the group laughed.

"So," Megan said, "there's reason to believe Bondarella is stalking a target on this side of the pond... and all we have to do is discover who that is, prevent the kidnapping, and apprehend a criminal mastermind who has eluded the best investigative minds in Europe for nearly a decade."

Scully nodded.  "That about sums it up."

"Piece of cake!" Veronica said, brightly.

"Are you volunteering to make a run to the bakery, Rookie?" Gracie inquired in a dry manner.

"No," Veronica smiled, "I was volunteering to help with the field interviews."

"Duly noted," Scully purred, then nodded to Claudia.  "Thank you, Signorina.  Now..." She addressed her team, as a whole.  "Let's get to work.  We have a kidnapper to catch."


The B-Files
Chapter 1

Chapter 2