Simple things can trigger happy memories, for me it’s the sound of a key in a lock, until now.
That’s what happens when you get sloppy. Okay, don’t panic, find the circuit and cut the alarm. Breaking into a safe should be easy when you have the key, who knew they’d wire the tumbler. Me, I should have known, that’s three mistakes on this job. 60 seconds before someone shows up, concentrate.
Just a little snip Mr. Blue wire, it won’t hurt a bit. That’s it, now let’s get what we came for and get the hell out of here.
“You should have made that 45 seconds.”
Anne Frost turns to see a silhouetted figure in the open doorway, there is no mistaking the shape in the figures right hand. She squints when the wall switch is flipped flooding the darkened office with light and revealing her untimely intruder is a woman. Anne searches her mind for a plausible reason to be dressed in black in front of an open safe holding an envelope from said safe, but a deep sigh while lowering her head says it all.
Delilah Keenan, wearing FBI standard charcoal grey slacks and blazer over a crisp white blouse with sensible black heels, moves toward Anne without breaking the invisible line between the safe cracker’s chest and the 9mm Beretta.
“Still talk to yourself during a job, old habits die hard don’t they Ms. Frost.” Delilah said.
“Like old wardrobes?” Anne said.
“A stint at Quantico would do you good.” Delilah said.
“This was a perfect heist, except for that alarm.” Anne said.
“And these clever little devices that seem to be everywhere, right Alexa?” Delilah said patting a black cylindrical object on the desk. “There hasn’t been a break in this sloppy since Watergate.”
“Watergate, a reference to a failed break in during . . .”
“Thank you Alexa.” Delilah said, “Well, time to take you into custody. You will be coming peacefully?”
Delilah removes a set of Peerless hinged handcuffs from her blazer with her left hand while maintaining that invisible line with her right, yeah she’s good, and tosses them on the desk.
“I guess you’ll want this?” Anne said, offering the envelope and looking for an opportunity to turn the tables.
“Keep it, it’s my recipe for Rice Krispy Treats, they’re a big hit at pajama parties.” Delilah said.
Anne releases the envelope over the trash can next to the desk, picks up the cuffs and locks them behind her back.
* * * * *
“Charming interrogation room, I love what you haven’t done with the place.” Anne said.
“I’m sure you will add your own style in time. Take your clothes off and sit down.” Delilah said.
“Not even a drink first?” Anne said.
“Consider it a favor, those pants don’t do a thing for you.” Delilah said.
Anne contorts her body to check her own derriere, that’s obviously what Delilah was referring to. What she can see of it looks fine. Anne huffs in mock disgust, strips and sits in the heavy high backed wood chair in the center of the room. Delilah applies the wide leather straps attached to the chair for arms, legs, waist and chest.
“I don’t recall seeing this in the employee handbook.” Anne said.
“As owner of Carrington Investigations, Blake personally creates real world training exercises to fully develop the potential of his people.” Delilah said.
“You get tied up naked in basements much?” Anne said.
“I meant the safe cracking part, but there should be consequences to a botched job, don’t you think? Now, shall I start with the pain or the pleasure?” Delilah said.
“Please, start with the pain.” Anne said.
“You’re going to fit in just fine here.” Delilah said.
“Conference call in five minutes ladies.” The voice on the intercom belonged to Coco Durand.
“Another caper foiled.” Anne said.
“Blake does spoil the fun from time-to-time, but that’s why we’re here.” Delilah said unbuckling the straps.
Anne and Delilah climb the basement stairs, after Anne dresses, and enter the living room of the converted 4 bedroom ranch that serves as the headquarters of the agency.
Coco sits on the corner of the large oak desk that looks over two sofas, two arm chairs and a coffee table. Coco Durand is the senior investigator at the agency, if you consider 32 senior, but it still beats Delilah at 27 and Anne at a youthful 22. Coco proudly traces her lineage back to French aristocracy.
Well, at least French Quarter gamblers, but she’s pretty sure they came from aristocracy. Either way her mastery of the poker face serves her well. The phone rings and Coco puts it on speaker.
“Good morning Blake.” The ladies say in unison.
“Good morning girls. I have an assignment for you, and it will be the perfect ice breaker for our newest member Anne.
“My alma mater, All Saints College, is meeting their arch rival Puritan University on the grid iron for an important play-off game. It seems some Puritan students have kidnapped the All Saints Badgers mascot. These types of shenanigans happen frequently between the two schools, except this time the young lady who wears the costume on the field was still inside when it was taken. The administrators of Puritan in no way condone this behavior. I have money riding on this game, but fair competition and the whereabouts of the missing student are paramount, so I’m sending you all back to school. Good luck girls.”
Coco disconnects the call.
“So what’s the plan Coco?” Delilah said.
“Blake has made arrangements for all of us. Delilah, you’re an assistant to the Admissions Administrator. Anne, you’re a mechanical engineering student transferring from another school, and you will be on the football cheer squad. The school is known for its engineering disciplines, your engineering degree means you won’t have to fake it, the class work anyway. And speaking of discipline, it’s named Puritan University for a reason. This is your school uniform, dress code is strictly enforced, and Blake made it very clear that you will be treated like any other student to maintain your cover.” Coco said.
“What about you Coco?” Anne said.
“I’ll be a visiting history professor.” Coco said.
“They offer a degree in riverboat gambling?” Delilah said.
“Is that a BS program?” Anne said.
“The discipline could start now if you like.” Coco said.
* * * * *
Delilah and Anne are waiting in a conference room in the University’s Administration building when Coco arrives from her meeting with Dean Saunders.
Coco said, “Dean Saunders doesn’t have any new information on the missing student, he said this type of thing happens frequently between the schools because the campuses are so close to each other and it’s usually innocent fun. He wants to take a cautious approach with this, no one has reported a missing person but they also can’t reach the girl’s parents.
“He has arranged your housing Anne, your dorm mate’s name is Jeanie, she’s a nursing student and on the football cheer squad, the Dean thinks it will be your quickest way of meeting all the students of interest. I have your class schedule here, I’m your advisor so we can meet without suspicion. I’ll learn what I can from the faculty and Delilah has full access to student records.
“It’s Sunday and most of the faculty is off, you get settled into your dorm and we’ll see you in a day or two. We have to wrap this up before game day next Sunday, the priority is the missing student.”
“And a full length skirt looks good on you.” Delilah added.
“I feel like a nun.” Anne said.
“I think that’s the idea of it.” Coco said.
Coco watches from the second floor window as Anne exits the building to head across campus.
“She’s had so little training, do you think she’ll pull it off?” Delilah said.
“She’ll be fine,” Coco said, “look, she’s already talked a young man into carrying her things.”
Anne’s young man gets her to the entrance door of her dorm building, from there she hauls her stuff inside to the elevators and up to the fourth floor. She knocks, and hears some strange commotion before the door opens.
In the doorway is 5’2” of full on adorable, with jet black shoulder length hair, chocolate brown eyes and rich Mediterranean skin tone. The young woman is so striking it takes Anne a moment to realize she is also wrapped shoulder to ankle in rope.
“Hi, I’m Jeanie, come on in.”
“I’m Anne, I guess we’ll be roommates.”
Jeanie said, “They told me you’d be here. I’d help you bring your stuff in but the guys got here before you. I bet your wondering why I’m tied up like this, it’s an off week. I mean, our team isn’t playing this Sunday so we have an after church get-together, it’s kind of a thing.”
“I think I missed the tied up part of the story.” Anne said.
“This is how we get there, some players go room-to-room tying the girls up, then they come back to collect us. I grew up with a bunch of brothers so I’m used to it, I don’t think a week went by that I didn’t get tied up. When I wasn’t tied to something and could move around I didn’t mind at all, in fact I got pretty good at doing just about everything while tied up. It’s kind of fun. How about you?” Jeanie said.
“I had sisters, but we did the same thing, and my dad was a cop. Take your kid to work day meant spending the afternoon chained to the wall in booking.” Anne said.
There is a knock, Anne opens the door and Jeanie introduces her new roommate to Brad and Kevin, both football players.
“Hey, I heard your filling a spot on the squad, you want to come and meet everyone? I’ll help you unpack when we get back.” Jeanie said.
“We have lots of fun, we’ll have to tie you up though.” Brad said.
Kevin spins Anne around and Brad ties her wrists behind her back, then Kevin picks her up and Brad ties her ankles. Brad collects Jeanie and the boys head down the hall toward the elevators with the girls slung over their shoulders. Dean Saunders knows his students, this will be the fastest way to meet every one of interest.
* * * * *
It’s Wednesday morning, the investigative team meets for the first time to compare notes.
“All Saints is continuing its internal investigation into the disappearance of Carol Bosley, the student in the badger costume, but so far has found no evidence of a kidnapping. Students who claim she was kidnapped cite social media as their source of information, they still can’t contact her parents.” Coco said.
“The players are definitely betting on the game, their bookmaker is a student named John Rowe.” Anne said.
“I’ll check his record.” Delilah said.
“Let’s keep digging, the clock is running out.” Coco said.
That afternoon Anne goes to the pool for her PE class. Swimming is one class at Puritan not taught co-ed, and the swimwear the University provides is even less fashionable than the uniforms. After class Anne returns to the locker room with the rest of the girls. The routine is place your wet suit in the laundry bin, take a towel and enter the showers. Or in this case, wait for a shower to become available.
Anne showers and goes back to the lockers, most of the girls are gone or leaving. She opens her locker and finds her school uniform has been replaced with a modified version. This one is missing all the buttons on the frock above the breastbone and has a much shorter skirt with a slit up the side guaranteed to show her undies, the white leggings missing entirely. It’s also two sizes smaller than the one she started the day with.
Wearing a towel around campus not being an option, Anne struggles into the uniform and checks herself in the mirror glued to the inside of the locker door. She tries to stuff her breasts into the uniform but there is not enough material. Maybe it’s take-the-girls-to-class day? She’ll run back to her dorm and take the consequences for being a few minutes late to her next class.
Anne checks the hall for teachers and makes a dash for the exit, she doesn’t get far before hearing the shrill voice of Ms. Claxton.
“Good day Ms. Claxton, I can explain.” Anne said.
“I have no doubt your excuse would be entertaining, the consequence for uniform transgressions is, however, mandated.” Ms. Claxton said.
“I’m kind of new here.” Anne said.
“Ignorance of the rules is no excuse, you will step into my office and bend over the desk.” Ms. Claxton said.
“You’re joking, right?” Anne said.
“You would prefer an hour in the pillory?” Ms. Claxton said.
Anne enters the room and bends over the desk. Ms. Claxton retrieves a thick wooden ruler from the drawer.
“I do this far too often, it almost makes one believe students get in trouble on purpose.” Ms. Claxton said.
The first strike takes Anne’s breath. Oh, it stings, but it is more the humiliation of it. Not like the games they play at the office, this is a near total stranger. And this isn’t some sexual game to Ms. Claxton, this is her job. Somehow that makes it more exciting to Anne.
Ms. Claxton is a professional, her strikes are slow and deliberate, never hitting the same spot twice. Anne’s backside is wonderfully warm, her nerves tingling with life. It ends a bit too soon.
“I trust we won’t have to repeat this?” Ms. Claxton said.
“No Ma’am, next time I’ll try the pillory.” Anne said.
“I was joking of course, a pillory would be barbaric.” Ms. Claxton said.
Ms. Claxton presses her hand to Anne’s forehead before Anne can react, then holds up a small mirror. Anne sees the large red X left by the stamp.
“It wouldn’t do to be disciplined twice for the same transgression, now you had better get to class.” Ms. Claxton said.
Anne steps back into the hall with no time to return to the dorm. Being late for class would earn her another strike, then she’d only be one strike away from, well, something she doesn’t want to find out. She’ll have to go to class dressed like this. The students who pulled this prank will get their laugh.
* * * * *
The next day Anne only has one lecture in the afternoon. Jeanie asks Anne to be her partner for today’s nursing class, Anne sees it as an opportunity to meet more students.
On the way Anne has visions of Jeanie taking her temperature or bandaging a wound, but no. Anne tries to adjust the hospital gown for maximum coverage, but her effort is thwarted when Jeanie takes the slack out of the strap dragging Anne’s hand, and last free limb, to the side of the mattress, then tying it off to the bed frame under the watchful eye of her instructor.
“Very good, carry on.” The instructor said and walks away.
“Funny, you didn’t mention tying me to a bed.” Anne said.
“Caring for patients in restraints is part of my certification, and I can’t thank you enough for helping.” Jeanie said. “Do you need to use a bedpan? Then I could check that off my list.”
“You just plan to leave that unchecked.” Anne said.
“That’s okay, we still have three hours. I’ll start with feeding, and then give you a sponge bath. I’ll be right back with your meal.” Jeanie said.
Anne quickly estimates the distance to the nearest exit and pulls hard on the cuffs around her wrists and ankles, the straps hold firm. She drops her head to the pillow in defeat.
* * * * *
After a full day of classes and full evening of cheer practice, Anne is thankful it’s Friday, except for the fact they are running out of time and there has been little advancement in the case. Anne and Jeanie head to the cafeteria for a snack then back to the dorm. Assuming they are in for the night, Anne follows Jeanie’s lead stripping out of her school uniform and into pajamas. Anne dons a two piece satin in royal blue while Jeanie chooses sweat pants in school colors with a white tank top.
“It feels good to relax.” Anne said.
“I forgot to tell you something.” Jeanie said as someone knocks on the door. She opens it and four guys in pajamas rush in and begin tying the girls up. “We have a pajama party every Friday night after practice.”
Anne and Jeanie are taken to the basement of the dorm, which includes a large open carpeted space with a couple of game tables and some furniture. The floor is filled with the hogtied cheer squad, their roommates, and player’s girlfriends.
Anne can’t help notice the variety of sleepwear choices. One piece, two piece, sweats and tees, it must be the only day part with no dress code. The boys lay them on the floor among some other girls and place them in hogties.
“I should have warned you.” Jeanie said.
“This certainly makes up for the lack of alcohol on campus, but aren’t you concerned with play kidnapping when there is a student missing?” Anne said.
“What student?” Jeanie said.
“Carol Bosley.” Anne said.
“I know her. She’s not missing, she’s on vacation.” Jeanie said.
“No talking,” a guy said and presses a strip of duct tape over Anne’s mouth, then does the same to Jeanie.
The break she has been waiting for was in that little package of adorable goodness this whole time, and now a common hardware store item is denying Anne access to the information. A guy describes a series of challenges or something that is about to take place. It’s going to be a long night.
The party goes into the early morning while Anne pushes ping pong balls with her nose, plays Jenga with her toes and bobs for objects buried in cotton balls. When she is not gagged she’s too far from Jeanie to talk, and since there is no kidnap victim in danger why not enjoy it.
The party comes to an end and the girls are delivered bound and gagged back to their dorm by two of the guys, the knot binding Jeanie’s hands is loosened and they leave. Anne watches from her bed as Jeanie works to loosen the rope. Ten minutes later her hands are free and Jeanie begins removing the rest of her ropes, then peels the tape from her mouth.
“Gotta pee.” Jeanie said and runs out the door.
Fifteen minutes later, an eternity in bound and gagged time, Jeanie returns and begins the process of releasing Anne, saving the wrists for last.
Anne rips the tape from her mouth. “How do you know Carol Bosley?”
“We’ve hung out before. I know Carol’s boyfriend, Bob Eckert.” Jeanie said.
“And Bob goes to school here?” Anne said.
“He goes to All Saints with Carol. Her half-brother Steve Isaac goes to school here. Carol likes to play tie up games, and Steve is into furry play, so Bob thought it would be fun to kidnap her from All Saints in her badger costume and bring her here, then their dad picked them up. He had some business emergency in South America and thought it would be a great opportunity for them to see the Rain Forest even though they’re missing a week of school.” Jeanie said. “Did you think she was really missing?”
“There was talk.” Anne said.
“On social media maybe, some people have nothing better to do.” Jeanie said. “Is that why you’re here? Are you a cop?”
“I’m not a cop.” Anne said.
“A detective, that’s so cool.” Jeanie said.
“Let’s just say I’m a concerned citizen.” Anne said putting on her school uniform.
“Where are you going, is there more to the case? What’s the plan?” Jeanie said.
“Why don’t you stay here and get some rest. When I come back we’ll have lunch before we go to practice.” Anne said.
Anne crosses campus to the Administration building to meet with Coco and Delilah, and relates Jeanie’s story.
“That explains what happened to Carol, but how is that connected to the game?” Coco said.
“What was the half-brother’s name again?” Delilah said.
“Steve Isaac.” Anne said.
“I’ve seen that name somewhere,” Delilah said flipping through a folder, “he’s John Rowe’s dorm mate.”
“Our bookmaker?” Coco said. “That can’t be a coincidence.”
“You think John started the kidnapping rumors? Some students believe she is being held to influence the game.” Anne said.
“Control the odds, that’s why the house always wins, but if John is betting he would need someone to place the bets for him.” Coco said.
“University records don’t go much beyond admission applications, so I asked Blake to check out John Rowe. He makes a lot of calls to the EU, more than a college boy would make to his mother, and he has a half-brother named Aaron Stone. Aaron is the starting quarterback for All Saints.” Delilah said.
“And it was just starting to make sense.” Anne said.
“Unless someone is really planning to throw the game?” Delilah said.
“Your closest to the players here Anne, think you can wrap this up?” Coco said.
“I’ll call you if I need you.” Anne said.
Anne returns to the dorm for Jeanie and the two go to the cafeteria for lunch.
“How big is the betting here?” Anne said.
“I don’t gamble, some of the girls do it to fit in with the players, just a few dollars. Not like the boys.” Jeanie said. “But the two schools don’t often meet in a play-off game, so I hear it’s gotten a little crazy.”
“How serious do the pranks get?” Anne said.
“We kidnap each other’s mascots, not each other.” Jeanie said.
“Right. Do you know when Carol is coming back?” Anne said.
“Tomorrow morning.” Jeanie said.
“Game day,” Anne said, “we better get to practice.”
The final practice lasts longer than usual, the players and cheer squad are both on the field as they will be for tomorrow’s game. It’s after dark when practice ends. Anne and Jeanie head back to the locker room to shower and change.
“Where can I find John?” Anne said.
“He’s the towel boy, he’ll be in the team locker room doing laundry.” Jeanie said.
“Okay, you go back to the dorm and I’ll be along shortly.” Anne said.
“What are you going to do?” Jeanie said.
“Place a wager.” Anne said.
Anne makes her way down the hall to the team lockers. The main lighting has been turned off for the night creating alternating areas of light and dark. She opens the door enough to stick her head in. Seeing no activity Anne enters and walks through the dressing area, pausing at each row of lockers to check the aisle.
Anne is startled by the voice from the shadows.
“Are you John? I wanted to place a bet.” Anne said.
“How much?” John said stepping into the light.
“That depends, what’s the spread?” Anne said.
“Puritan is favored by twelve.” John said.
“I thought Aaron would be the favored Quarterback, he is family.” Anne said.
“What do you want?” John said.
“You seem like a smart guy, I figured this fake kidnapping was just convenient cover for something that would bring a much bigger payday than a twelve point spread. The exchange rate with the Euro isn’t what it used to be.” Anne said.
“Who are you?” John said.
“I’m Anne, from the cheer squad.” Anne said.
“Well, Anne from the cheer squad, you seem to have it all figured out. I do have an arrangement with a couple Puritan players to ensure the underdog wins, so Aaron will have his glory, even though I should be the star quarterback.” John said.
“The kidnapping rumors were meant to whip up the betting frenzy, then you place your own side bets against the underdog knowing they will win.” Anne said.
That was the original plan. Sadly, I won’t be paying out winnings after all.” John said.
“If you’re taking all the money, why use players to throw the game?” Anne said.
“Like you said, he’s family. All I can offer you is a comfortable place to sit out the game.” John said.
John grabs Anne, pushes her face down onto a bench and straddles her hips. At 6’2” he has both weight and leverage advantage. He drags Anne’s arms behind her back and binds her wrists from a roll of white sports tape.
He wraps tape around Anne’s legs at the ankles and knees, then hauls her to her feet and covers her upper body and arms in the white adhesive.
“You don’t have to do this John, we can work out a deal.” Anne said.
“By the time they find you I’ll be in Europe with my girlfriend, that’s the deal.” John said. He plasters several strips of tape over Anne’s mouth.
A door slams in the darkness. “Another customer, I’ll be right back,” John said. He shoves Anne into a locker and slams the door.
Anne struggles in the dark tight space. He must have used the whole roll of tape, the wrappings have no slack, and Anne can’t get any meaningful leverage on the locker door to try and force it open. Yelling for help is out. Anne must wait for John to return for her and hope he comes to his senses.
The latch slides and the door swings open, it’s Jeanie.
“Seems I’m always untying you.” Jeanie said pulling the tape from Anne’s mouth.
“Get out of here, John might be back any minute.” Anne said.
“Towel boy got himself locked in the towel room.” Jeanie said.
* * * * *
Coco, Delilah and Anne sit in Dean Saunders’ office Sunday morning.
“John Rowe is suspended and authorities notified, the two players have been disciplined and the missing young lady is safely back on her campus. Mr. Rowe admitted his half-brother wasn’t involved, so the game will go on as scheduled. Well done ladies.” Dean Saunders said.
The ladies say their goodbyes to the Dean and leave the administration building. Jeanie is sitting on a bench, Coco and Delilah go ahead to the car.
“I got used to standing on your shoulders, can’t you stay for the game?” Jeanie said.
“We have another assignment. You’ll be great, but not if you’re late.” Anne said.
“I’m going.” Jeanie said and the two share an embrace.
“Hey,” Anne said as Jeanie walks away, “if you’re ever contacted by someone named Blake, take the call.”
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