CROWN Affair

by Van © 2003
Chapter 1
To see the actresses the author would cast in a THOMASINA CROWN motion picture,
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The penthouse alarm had been spoofed.  Specifically, the internet link to the security company had been monitored via a vampire tap for more than a week, the encrypted feed had been analyzed, and slowly, over many hours, the voltage on the bypass had been raised until the signal could be usurped.  As far as the security monitors in their Manhattan command center were concerned, all was well; but they were wrong.

A female figure descended onto the balcony garden of the penthouse, dangling like a bipedal spider on a thin cable.  With her came a black duffle bag on a second cable.  The figure was clad all in black; boots, bodystocking, gloves, and full hood; and she moved with the fluid grace of a trained gymnast or martial artist.  It was dark on the balcony.  The lights of the busy city glittered from neighboring buildings, but the balcony was shielded by elements of its Art Deco architecture and the placement of the building's own lights.  The figure used a pair of fine wires and tiny clips and bypassed the alarm contacts of the French doors.  Once inside the apartment, the figure unerringly made her way to the security system's camouflaged control panel.  A small device was jacked into a service port, and within seconds all local elements of the system were completely disabled.

The maid was next.  She was in her early twenties; a lithe, petite, very pretty slip of a girl; a citizen of Costa Rica.  She was fast asleep in the twin-size bed of her spartan room, dressed in a shabby, rather oversized nightie (a cast-off of her employer), her next day maid's uniform already laid out and waiting on a nearby chair.

Working quickly and efficiently, the dark figure produced two pair of flexi-cuffs (joined cable ties, specifically designed for use as restraints).  She then threw back the light blanket and sheet covering the maid's body and bound her wrists behind her back and her ankles together.  She then forced a foam ball between the maid's white teeth, and held it there while she wrapped layers of elastic foam bandage over the mewing girl's mouth and around her head.  The frightened Latina never had a chance.  She was bound in seconds, her gag being applied before she was fully awake.  She lay on the bed in near total darkness, twisting in her bonds and mewing through her gag.

The dark figure leaned close and spoke.  Her words were in español, her voice distorted by an electronic device.  "Be calm, Little One.  You are in no danger.  My business is with the Witch who employs you."  She knotted a thin black cord to the left side rail of the bed, rolled the maid over, hitched the cord though the junction of the flexicuffs on her wrists, and knotted the other end to the right side rail.  The maid's thrashing legs received similar treatment, and she found herself face down and tightly (but not cruelly) lashed in place.  "Your name is Leda, is it not?" the figure continued, still in Spanish, and the maid nodded.  Gloved hands stretched a second layer of tape over the maid's head-encircling gag.  This time it was waterproof plastic.  Finally, the dark figure restored the bed's sheet and light blanket, covering Leda's wiggling body, then fluffed her pillow and gently positioned it to cushion the captive's thoroughly silenced head.

"The Witch is expecting you to prepare breakfast and serve her in bed, correct?" the figure asked.  Leda nodded, her doe eyes wide above the gag.  "And no other servants or visitors are expected until mid-afternoon, correct?"  Leda nodded again.  "There is a change in your orders, Leda.  You may sleep in tomorrow."  The bound maid's eyes were wet, and she was shivering.  "I know you are frightened, Little One," the dark figure said, "but I must leave you like this.  Try not to struggle, if you can.  You cannot possibly escape, and although your bonds are padded, you may irritate your pretty wrists and ankles if you try... and that would be a pity."

A gloved hand reached out from the darkness and brushed the bangs from Leda's face, causing the prisoner to flinch.  "So very pretty," the dark figure mused.  "Such a strong and shapely little thing.  Such smooth skin.  Such delicate features.  Go with God, Leda.  Remember... you are safe."

Seconds passed... but there was no sign of the stranger leaving... or of her continued presence.  Leda lay on her bed, twisting her wrists and ankles in their inescapable bonds. She mewed through the foam ball filling her mouth and the layers of tape sealing her lips, and sobbed into her pillow.
Chapter 1
The penthouse belonged to Mrs. Sharon Stonebeck, widow of the late (but not terribly lamented) Geoffrey Stonebeck.  Born into money, Sharon had attended all the right schools, married well... and now had wealth that exceeded the GNP's of some small countries.  She was very beautiful, blond, athletic, and clever.  She spent her days shopping (to fill her already full closets) and at her exclusive gym/spa (to maintain her exquisite figure).  At night she attended all the right parties and charity events.  Sharon graced the social pages with regularity and was invited everywhere.  Well... almost everywhere.

You see, Sharon Stonebeck was a bitch.  Always had been, always would be.  She had started her career as leader of the "popular" clique at every school she had attended, and had graduated to become the mistress of the cutting remark, cruel observation, and awkward introduction.  A tiny minority of the social elite followed her exploits with glee, but most simply tolerated her behavior (as long as the ten thousand dollar checks to their favorite charities kept flowing).

Sharon was also a patron of the arts.  Her collection was justly famous, and she had several important pieces on loan to the best museums.  Her penthouse was decorated with Impressionist, Fauvist, Expressionist, and Cubist works valued in the millions... and there was a hidden gallery as well, a gallery of works only she could appreciate.  Her public collection was entirely aboveboard, all purchases well-documented and properly insured.  Her secret collection, on the other hand, was very much below-board: plundered, stolen, or looted masterpieces from across the globe, all on clandestine display in an elaborate gallery behind a cleverly camouflaged vault door for the sole appreciation of an audience of one.

Sharon awoke as a strip of tape was being plastered over her mouth.  Her hands were already bound behind her back and her ankles together.  She mewed through her not very effective gag, but could do nothing to prevent a black cloth hood from being pulled over her head.  Next, something (a cable tie?) was used to join her wrist and ankle bonds in a stringent hog-tie.  She remained in this condition for most of an hour, thrashing and struggling on her bed, tugging on her bonds, and moaning through her gag and hood.  All she accomplished was to work up a healthy sweat and the near exposure of one breast when her struggles snapped the left strap of her hideously expensive and already very revealing negligée.

Eventually Sharon's captor returned and released whatever was enforcing the hog-tie.  Her ankle and wrist bonds were still secure, and the hood remained on her head.  Next, she was was seized and carried from the bedroom, perched precariously on her captor's shoulder, twisting legs first and hooded head behind.  She thrashed, kicked, and protested the indignity of her treatment, and was rewarded with a resounding slap on her silk-covered derrière.  The journey lasted only a few dozen paces, she was placed on her feet and held upright by strong hands clutching her shoulders, and a second pair of hands busied themselves slicing and ripping the negligée from her body!

Sharon screamed through her gag and hood, and was plunked down on a hard cold surface.  There was a zipping sound and her already joined ankles were now bound to something very solid.  Next, whatever was binding her wrists together behind her back was released, but she was given no opportunity to exploit her very limited freedom.  Her hands were wrenched back and held behind something hard and cold, and thin cord, a lot of thin cord, was used to lash them together.  As her binding continued, Sharon realized where she was: she was seated on the steel ladder chair usually placed against the wall between her Miro and her Braque.  It was more sculpture than furniture, a Modern design to complement the Cubist works on either side.  

The chair's back was quite literally a steel ladder, about seven feet high and only a foot wide, the vertical rails separated by closely spaced rungs.  Its minimal and not particularly comfortable seat was supported by a sled base.  All elements of the chair were blued steel, and except for the smooth plate of the seat, were from the same rectangular steel bar stock.  Heavy and stable, all joints were solidly welded and ground smooth.  The chair was a work of art, its form pleasing to the eye... but it was not pleasing to the buttocks or the spine.

Once, for an act of "clumsiness" (and as an act of bitchiness), Sharon had made the maid drop her panties around her ankles and sit on the ladder chair for two hours.  Leda was too short for her feet to touch the floor and her petite little feet had dangled, the spikes of her heels at least two inches from the floor, her bottom squirming to find comfort, her hands atop her lace capped head (as ordered), her big brown eyes moist with humiliation and shame (and carefully suppressed anger).

And now Mrs. Sharon Stonebeck's was the naked bottom squirming on the cruel steel.  Her captors used more cord to bind her back against the chair, encircling her waist and her chest, above and below her heaving breasts.  More cord pulled her shoulders back, lashed her elbows to the frame, and were hitched through her bound wrists.  The cords were cruelly tight.  Next, her ankles were freed from their former bonds, each ankle pulled back and off the floor, her knees to either side, and she was bound in this humiliating and very unladylike pose with more of the thin cord pinching the flesh of her thighs, knees, and ankles.  Finally, cord tightened around her big toes and thumbs, and even they were added to the cat's cradle of her bondage.  Sharon had struggled at every step of the process, but her resistance had been easily defeated by her captors; and now she knew herself to be completely, absolutely, inescapably... bound and helpless.

The hood was pulled from Sharon's head.  She shook her tousled, blond, shoulder-length locks from her face, blinked, and looked around.  She was in the main room of her apartment.  The drapes were closed, but she could see the lights of the neighboring buildings through the gauzy fabric.  They provided more than enough light for her to examine her surroundings.  

Her captors numbered four.  All were clad head-to-toe in body-hugging black unitards, and all were unmistakably female.  Their heads were completely covered by hoods and masks, and all were wearing gloves.  The first was sitting at Sharon's desk and was busy using her computer; the second was removing her Kandinsky from its frame (!!!); the third was standing immediately before her, hands on hips; and her fourth captor was to the side, filming her naked, bound, and squirming body with what looked like a very expensive and compact video camera!

Sharon mewed through her tape-gag and struggled in her bonds.  The third captor turned and walked unerringly to the ornate wall sconce concealing the switch that controlled the armored door of Sharon's secret gallery.  The mildly complicated sequence of events necessary to activate the mechanism was accomplished... and the vault door slid silently to the side.

Number One continued clacking the keys of Sharon's computer.  Number two finished packing the Kandinsky in a foam-lined, black nylon carrying case, then followed Number Three into the secret gallery and they began removing her Monet from the wall!  Number Four continued recording Sharon's humiliation and distress.  Two and Three then removed Sharon's dubiously acquired Pissaro and Cézanne, which, like the Monet, were quickly and efficiently removed from their frames, packed for travel, and their empty frames rehung.  Sharon squirmed in her punishing bondage and mewed through her gag, then hung her head in angry defeat.

Numbers Two and Three returned.  One of them tipped Sharon's chair forward (much to her alarm), while the other snapped a bar with a set of teflon rollers under the chair's base.  Next, Sharon and her chair were tipped back onto the rollers (to her continued alarm), and trundled into her secret gallery.  The chair was tipped again and the roller bar removed.  Number Four continued filming.

One of her captors (Sharon had lost track of which was "Two" and which was "Three"), stepped behind the chair, gathered Sharon's hair in a ponytail, threaded the silky blond mass between two slats of the chair's ladder, and pulled her head tight against the chairback.  Number Four and her camera came in close to record the prisoner's distressed face in detail.  

The remaining captor slowly reached for Sharon's breasts with her gloved hands, and gave each a teasing caress and gentle squeeze.  Sharon's blue, frightened eyes darted from her tormentor's gloves to her masked, anonymous face, to the camera lens, and back to her firm, tan breasts and pointing nipples.

The gentle mauling of the captive's breasts lasted for several seconds, then one glove reached for the corner of Sharon's tape-gag, and ripped it away with one savage jerk.  

The breast mauler spoke.  Her voice was modified by some device into an electronic buzz, inhuman but intelligible.  "State your name."

Her head still held back by her hair, the camera lens still in her face, Sharon blinked and worked her jaw.  "W-what?  How dare you—Ahh! "  Her left nipple was captured in a tight pinch.

"Your name."

"I-I demand you—M'mmpfh!"  The captor behind Sharon had maintained her grip on her hair with one hand, and now had her other over the prisoner's lips in a gloved hand-gag.

The Mauler released her nipple, but immediately produced a pair of small gold and ebony... earrings?  Her gloved hands manipulated the gleaming pieces, and Sharon realized they weren't earrings at all—but nipple clamps!  Shaped like wasps, they had wings of faceted crystal; compound eyes of many tiny rubies; splayed legs with barbed feet; and their insect jaws were lined with a great many needle-sharp points.  With a squeeze of their wings the wasps' jaws opened wide.

"I am going to ask you one more time," the Mauler announced.  "Then I'm going to snap my little friends here to your nipples and leave them there for one hour.  Then I'll ask you again.  If you're still uncooperative... I have other means of persuasion.  What is your name?"

The hand-gag was removed, and Sharon licked her lips.  "S-sharon... Sharon Stonebeck."

"All of the works in this hidden gallery are stolen.  Am I correct?"

"What?  No, I—Wait!"  The jaws of the wasp clamps were around her nipples and she could just feel the points of their many needles beginning to close.  "Yes, yes, they're stolen!  All of them!"  Number Four's camera recorded her confession... and the tear that rolled down her right cheek.

"Thank you, Sharon," the Mauler said, and the wasps disappeared from her hands... and were replaced with a what appeared to be a distressingly large foam ball.  "Open."

"Please," Sharon begged.  "Please don't—Ow! M'mmpfh! "  A nipple pinch had ended her plead for mercy and had been immediately followed by the ball being forced into her mouth.  An inch-wide rubber strap was forced between her teeth and secured behind her head, forcing the foam further back into her mouth and keeping it there.  Her lips were forced together over the foam and cleaving rubber band, and medical tape used to seal her lips.  Strip after strip was applied, completely covering her mouth; then a wide roll of some sort of black, waterproof, elastic tape was stretched around her head in overlapping layers until her lower face was covered in a neat, uniform, smooth cocoon from just under her nostrils to just under her chin.

Next, her hair was again pulled back through the slats, and she felt it being quickly and efficiently braided.  Apparently cord had been included in the plaiting process, because she felt something being hitched through the bonds joining her thumbs, it was pulled tight, and her hair was now painfully linked to her other bonds.  Finally, a band of cord tightened across her forehead, pinning her head even further, and a second cord passed under her chin and was tightened as well.  Despite the cord over her throat she could breath (the tight bands looping her chest caused more difficulty in that respect), but she couldn't move her head more than a tiny fraction of an inch.  In fact, other than her uselessly fluttering fingers and curling toes, she couldn't move anything more than a tiny fraction of an inch.

"A quick drying epoxy has been applied to all the knots of your bondage," the Mauler announced, then all her captors (including Number Four and her all-seeing camera) exited the hidden gallery.  The Mauler remained in Sharon's sight, framed in the doorway.  (Number Four was visible over her shoulder, and had continued filming the entire time).  "Tell me, Sharon," the Mauler asked.  "How many people actually know about your hidden gallery?  Is the door as soundproof as it appears?  How long do you think it will take the police to find you?"  The door began closing, the camera capturing Sharon's pathetic struggles and mewing whimpers as the gap in the doorway slowly narrowed.  "Tell, me Sharon... do you think they'll ever find you?"  And then the door was closed.  It was indeed solid, soundproof, and completely camouflaged.
Chapter 1

The recording ended and was replaced by a blue screen with the NYPD seal and a case number.  Katherine shuddered in sympathy.  Sharon Stonebeck may be a thoroughly unpleasant person and a thief... but I wouldn't wish her fate on anyone... not anyone I know.

Stonebeck had been rescued, in fact, her captors, the thieves who had burgled her penthouse and selectively looted her collection, had taken elaborate precautions to insure she would be rescued.  The penthouse alarms had been triggered at dawn.  When New York's Finest arrived, they rescued the maid, and found one painting (the Kandinsky) and Sharon Stonebeck missing; however, a shiny new DVD-R disc in a jewel case was taped to the wall, in the center of the Kandinsky's empty frame.  A printed label reading "LOOK AT ME NOW" was on the case.  The Detectives played the disc in Stonebeck's own entertainment system... and were astounded to find a complete visual record of Sharon Stonebeck being bound, gagged, interrogated, re-gagged, and incarcerated in her hitherto unknown and unsuspected secret gallery of stolen masterworks.

Eventually the means of opening the gallery was found, and... after a little more than ten hours of excruciatingly tight bondage, Sharon Stonebeck was rescued... and immediately arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen property.  They'd gotten a warrant and ADA to the scene before managing to open the door, so the arrest very well might result in a conviction... even after Stonebeck's shyster Dream Team earn their multimillion dollar fees, Katherine thought.  Court-TV was already gearing up for the "Art Trial of the Century".

Katherine took a sip of sherry, straightened her white cotton sleeveless blouse, brushed the front of her designer jeans, and reached for the top folder of the stack of files next to the monitor.  It was the technical summary of the NYPD burglary report.  The vampire tap of the penthouse security system had been discovered, or rather the damage to the cable had been discovered.  All hardware used to fool the system had vanished.  The security company was still claiming spoofing their link was impossible.  The burglars' method of ingress and egress of the penthouse and building remained unknown, as did their means of ultimate escape.

Professionals, with inside information, Katherine decided, and the police had agreed.  Poor Leda the maid had been grilled unmercifully and her life investigated, as had all of Stonebeck's employees and associates... then an immigrant rights group had started championing Leda's cause, and eventually, reluctantly, she had been released.  Katherine flipped the page and continued reading.  Leda was currently back in Costa Rica, about to start attending University.  Katherine flipped the page again.  Absolutely no evidence of any clandestine payment to Leda or her family could be found... although her father's business, a shop in a poor section of Limón, had just secured a very favorable business loan... and Leda would be attending school on a full scholarship from an international development agency.  A little fishy... but Katherine's instincts told her the ex-maid was not an accomplice of the burglars.

Thus far, none of the stolen art had reappeared... with a single exception. Katherine flipped open another file and stared at a photograph of the Cézanne that had been in Stonebeck's secret gallery.  Two months after the Stonebeck robbery, a young couple had been renovating their newly purchased cottage outside Salzburg, and had discovered a carefully crated canvas hidden inside a wall.  Realizing they had something important on their hands, they contacted the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art... and the Cézanne was restored to the light of day... and the estate of its last legal owner.  It had been decided (somewhat conveniently, to Katherine's way of thinking) that the "Stonebeck Cézanne" must have been a copy.  

The theft of the Kandinsky was a multimillion-dollar disaster for the insurance companies involved, but in the long term this would be more than offset by the recovery of the remaining treasures of Stonebeck's secret gallery... after the courts sorted things out... after the settlement payments already made were recovered... after the criminal and civil suits were settled.  However, one thing Katherine knew for sure... if she could find the Kandinsky, her compensation would be a nice chunk of change.

She'd been tipped to the robbery months before (when it was still very hush hush), and had managed to obtain copies of most, if not all, of the relevant police reports and insurance documents.  Katherine had studied every page, then had studied them again... then had studied them some more.  All the while her brain was working, making correlations, looking for patterns and inconsistencies.  She'd made contacts and called in favors, going places the police couldn't or wouldn't go, and the pile of documents grew and grew... and a few isolated facts became a notion, which became a suspicion, which became a hunch: Thomasina Crown.

Katherine opened yet another file and stared at the color photo on the left side.  Thomasina Crown was wealthy... in the sense that the floor of the Atlantic is damp.  She was loaded... and very beautiful.  A couple of years older than Katherine, an inch or three taller, Thomasina looked like Iberian royalty: full lips, classic features, elegant black hair, gorgeous brown eyes, and smooth, fair skin.  She was also a gifted athlete; and as far as Katherine could tell, everyone on the planet who had ever met her face-to-face worshiped the ground at her aristocratic and philanthropic feet.  

Katherine smiled.  While nowhere near Crown's level in terms of wealth, not by orders of magnitude, as a successful insurance investigator who specialized in big cases, Katherine was more than comfortable.  Her large loft (living quarters and office) was stylishly appointed and included a gourmet kitchen, luxurious bath (with sauna), personal gym, and a second level (open to the loft below) with a king-size bed.  

Katherine ran her left hand through her long brown hair, still staring at Thomasina's smiling portrait... and continued smiling.  As far as looks were concerned, Katherine's figure and features were easily on a par with Thomasina Crown; but the investigator's beauty was of the brown-eyed, tan-skinned, Northern Europe variety.  (An investigator needed an honest appreciation of her assets and limitations, including an appreciation of her own physical attractiveness.)

Katherine closed Crown's file and tossed it back on the stack.  There were also... rumors... that the lovely Ms. Crown was a bit of a hedonist (and possibly lesbian... at the very least bisexual).  Katherine sipped her sherry and her smile broadened.  I can live with that.

Just then a voice called plaintively from elsewhere in the loft.  "Hey!  Katherine?  Uh... a little help here?  Wha'cha say?"

Katherine stood, restored her desk to a semblance of order, stretched, picked up her still half full sherry, and pattered towards the gym area on bare feet.
Chapter 1
The cry for help had indeed come from the gym.  Sipping her sherry, Katherine ambled up to the large exercise mat centered under one of the loft's several skylights, and smiled down at her protégé and junior partner, Sally Krippendorf.  The petite blonde was clad in a spaghetti-strap leotard and running shorts, and she was bound hand and foot.  Soft cotton rope encircled her wrists (crossed and tied behind her back), her ankles, knees, and elbows.  In addition, bands of rope pinned her arms to her sides, and were cinched tightly above and below her breasts and around her waist and forearms.  The waist rope also dove through her crotch and pinned her wrist bonds to her rump.  Finally, all the ropes were hitched and linked together, making it impossible for them to slip or slacken, no matter how Sally struggled, kicked, rolled, squirmed, shimmied, wiggled, wriggled, or writhed.  And God knew she'd been doing all of that.  She'd tried every trick Katherine had taught her, and none of them had worked.  Her bonds were still as tight and inescapable as they'd been when Katherine tied the final knot, more than an hour before.

Sally shook her straw-colored, tousled bob out of her gleaming face and smiled up at her Dastardly Kidnapper (and Escapology Instructor); then batted her pretty blue eyes and affected her most heartbreaking dimpled pout.  "Please?  I just can't get free... and my shoulders are beginning to ache.  Please?"

Katherine wet her tongue with sherry and savored the complex, smoky flavor.  "I don't think you're even trying, Krippendorf.  You're hardly even sweating."

Sally squirmed in frustration and glared up at the smug, gloating smile on Katherine's beautiful face.  "I'm sweating like a pig... and the lubrication isn't helping!  You said this was gonna be my most important lesson yet," the little blonde whined, "and you haven't taught me anything new, and nothing works, and I'm gonna hold my breath 'til I turn blue, and my pathetic, untimely death will be your fault!"

Katherine laughed, sat down on the mat (carefully placing her sherry to the side), and hauled the head and shoulders of her bound and helpless partner onto the comfort of her denim-clad lap.  She ran her fingers through Sally's bangs and smiled down at her student's tan, devilishly cute, dimpled face.  "What escape aids have you got?"

Sally squirmed and grinned.  "I got a tiny blade hidden in the back seam of my shorts, and a wire pick sewn into the front of my leotard."


Sally sighed.  "And I can't reach either of them tied up like a freakin' turkey with five times the amount of rope you've ever used before.  All the knots are out of reach, and nothing goes slack no matter what I do.  Cheater! "

Katherine smiled.  "And that's why this is the most important lesson I'll ever teach you.  Sometimes your captor knows his knots, all your tricks don't work, and you can't escape... so don't get caught."

"Oh, thank you, Yoda!" Sally responded with a derisive snort.  "'Don't get caught.'  Can I have that on a t-shirt?"

"I haven't taught you much about gags yet, have I?"

Sally sighed again, then pouted.  "Okay, I'll be good.  Can I have some sherry?"

Katherine smiled, picked up her glass, gave it a swirl, and tossed back its remaining contents (but didn't swallow).  She then leaned close and kissed her helpless partner fully and deeply on the lips.  As their lips squirmed and tongues rolled, a trickle of dark sherry rolled down Sally's chin.  The kiss lasted a very long time... and then was over.

Sally delicately licked her lips with the tip of her pink tongue and smiled up at Katherine.  "Hmm... yummy stuff.  Untie me now?"

"Eventually," Katherine purred.  "Now, pay attention.  You've read the files and my notes on the Stonebeck robbery, right?"  Sally nodded.  "Good," Katherine continued, a feral smile curling her lips.  "We need to discuss how we're going to take down our target... the one I think is behind the whole thing... Thomasina Crown."
Chapter 1

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