The Prop Room

by Jack Peacock

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© Copyright 2021 - Jack Peacock - Used by permission

Storycodes: M/f; bond; chastity; cuffs; bedtie; blindfold; gag; sex; D/s; roleplay; prison; trick; rom; cons; X

Continues from

Special FX

From On High

“So what do you think?” Joe asked as he hit the stop button on the DVD. “My impression, it was too contrived. There was no way she could get away from him. There were so many coincidences that it distracted from the story. A competent screenwriter might be allowed one deus ex machina, but I counted at least three, maybe four times the plot was saved by a miracle.”

Darlene stretched out on the couch while she watched him eject the disc. Joe had brought home some obscure find from a recent auction at a movie collectibles store. The name hadn’t told her much, Predator’s Highway, but Joe wanted to see it. The moment she saw the opening credits she understood why. The producer, director, and half the cast were from the same movie, Babes in Cages, that had inadvertently brought her and Joe together. This latest find was practically a sequel in terms of cast and crew.

“What, you don’t like the occasional divine intervention in the matters of us mere mortals? Bet you forgot I took Latin in high school.” She tipped her head to one side, curious as to why he had brought home that particular movie.

“And I bet that’s about all the Latin you remember. No, I don’t like too many miracles. It was sloppy writing. Granted this was drive-in fodder for teenagers in the 60’s, who rarely watched what was happening on screen. But just the same, a good craftsman takes pride in his work, even if it’s just a B-movie script for rent money.”

The disc popped out of the DVD player. Joe took it out of the machine and put it back in the slipcover. “I got a few props from the movie too, and a signed script by the director. It was part of a larger lot of better stuff so it was essentially a freebie. You’ll be cataloging the items when the boxes arrive.” Though now the wife of the boss Darlene still kept her job of maintaining the inventory of memorabilia in the warehouse. She might be one of the owners, but the rank did not earn her any extra privileges.

“I don’t think the storyline was impossible. She could have done all those things in real life, if she was desperate enough. And if she was Superman’s cousin.” She sat up as Joe came back to the sofa. He had left the television off.

“Hmm, maybe. But I doubt it. In real life, no one would be as calm as she was. A constant pursuit, she’d never have the time to plot a real escape.” He held out an arm and Darlene scooted over to bury herself inside his embrace. She loved the way he would hold her close, his strong arms around her. Looking up she saw him staring off into space, deep in thought.

“Penny for your thoughts? Or even a quarter, if they’re good ones.” She unfastened a button on his shirt and slid a hand inside, rubbing his chest. With the greatest of care she casually brushed against the key dangling from a chain around his neck, underneath his shirt. She might not be allowed to ask about it, but she could remind him it was there and that it could be used.

“They’re on the house tonight. We have a long weekend coming up; I was thinking a short trip somewhere might be a nice break.” His hand found its way onto her bare knee, below the hem of her skirt. Darlene tensed as his hand began making its way up her leg.

He had noticed the not so random motion of her hand across his chest too. “One of the ways that so endears you to me is your subtlety.” His hand stopped on her upper thigh, at the barrier of steel which now imprisoned her virtually every evening. “Tell me, would you like me to use the key tonight?” His hand continued to explore the limits of the metal shield which denied access to her sex.

“I want to please you Joe, any way I can. If you wish, I would like to serve you as only a woman can, providing you choose to allow me.” Darlene had to be careful how she phrased her answer. Joe had instituted a strict rule that she could not mention the chastity belt in any way, or ask him to unlock it, unless she had a good reason. The first time she broke that rule he had demonstrated his resolve by leaving it closed for an entire week. From that point on she had never broken the rule again. She had learned the hard way he didn’t bluff.

The moment they got home from work Joe put her in the belt. On weekends she wore it all day, even if they went out. It helped that her wardrobe now consisted almost entirely of skirts and dresses, another of Joe’s requirements. A tight set of jeans would have advertised to the world what she had on around her waist and between her legs. She was used to wearing it now; there were even moments when she forgot about it. But the moment she sat down or tried to bend over she was reminded it was there.

Regardless of her own opinion she would continue to wear it while eagerly anticipating the times when Joe saw fit to release her with the key dangling from his neck. Darlene didn’t have a key, and didn’t want one now. She liked the idea of being Joe’s private property. The look on his face when he would close the belt around her made all the inconvenience on her part worthwhile. It made him happy to control her, to possess her. For her part it was one more thing she could do for him, no different than his dictating her choice of wardrobe

Intuition told her he was going to use the key tonight. Perhaps in a matter of minutes, judging by the bulge she saw. Still, she had to be careful. He was the one in charge and made sure she knew it. Not that she’d have it any other way, but she had no intention of giving him an excuse to prove how stubborn he could be.

Joe drew back the arm from around her waist, and the hand from underneath her skirt. Darlene froze, thinking she had somehow upset him. The crisp “stand up” in his best command voice told her she needn’t have worried. She leapt to her feet and turned to face him. “Face the wall, away from me.”

“Yes, sir,” was her immediate reply as she turned around. She took a moment to close her eyes and savor the moment. The warm glow of obedient submission was slipping over her, bringing a mix of erotic excitement and a deeper fulfillment in her soul. She heard him stand up and felt his hands resting on her shoulders.

“Listen carefully to me, Darlene. I will tell you precisely what I want you to do. Stand very still, don’t move, and don’t make a sound. Close your eyes and concentrate on my words.” The low, deep even tones of his voice had a hypnotic effect on her. She kept her eyes closed, eager to hear what he wanted her to do next.

His hands slid off her shoulders, reached around and began to slowly unbutton her blouse. She could feel his warm breath on the back of her neck as he stood close behind her. “You are everything I dreamed of, my lovely Darlene,” he whispered in her ear. She leaned back in his embrace. “I notice all the little things you do for me, even if I don’t always mention them.” He finished with her blouse and reached for the small zipper on the side of her skirt. “I watch you all day long. I’m so proud of you.” The skirt fell to her ankles. Her panties quickly followed. “You are a good wife, Darlene. You do so much for me and never complain.” Her bra joined the pile of clothing, leaving only the chastity belt around her waist.

Darlene didn’t realize her clothes were gone. She was lost in the world of Joe’s voice. “I’d be lost without you in my life,” he continued. “We are the perfect fit, soulmates. Destiny brought us together, but nothing will ever separate us.” He lifted the key over his neck and reached around to her waist. “I want you. I want you now and forever.” The click as the lock opened punctuated his last word. The lined steel belt came away from her waist; the heavy shield dropped between her parted thighs. Joe tossed it onto the couch. It would not be needed this night.

With his hands on her hips he turned Darlene around to face him. “Open your eyes, let me see the woman who lives inside.” She stood straight but with eyes downcast to acknowledge his authority. He lifted up her chin and softly kissed her. “Come with me,” he ordered, taking her hand and leading her into their bedroom.

Morning Call

The sunlight streaming in through a gap in the blinds woke Darlene when it reached her eyes. Still half asleep she reached up to block out the irritating solar alarm clock. Or tried to, wide awake reality came back with a rush as her wrist jerked against the leather restraint holding her to the bed. A few tugs of arms and legs brought back memories of what had happened during the evening. Under the bed covers her wrists, knees and ankles were snugly held down by hospital bed restraints, padded leather locking cuffs fastened to sturdy belts that ran completely around the mattress. Another wide strap went over her waist, pinning her down. Joe had tied her down sometime last night; she couldn’t remember exactly what happened afterward. She closed her eyes again. Vague memories of Joe touching her, whispering to her, and finally on top of her brought back feelings of the warm, contented exhaustion that had lulled her to sleep last night.

It wasn’t the first time she had slept this way, so she knew it would be futile to try to work free. Turning her head to one side to get the sun out of her eyes she could see Joe’s back next to her. By the sound of his breathing he was still sleeping. Most nights when he used the restraints he let her go before they fell asleep. Lifting her head to look over his shoulders she could see the thin sliver of the key on his night stand. It would open the leather cuffs that held her down. Under the bedspread she could brush her fingers against the locking buckles that secured her wrists. If she had that key she could free herself.

And that was why it was on his side of the bed, safely out of her reach. Bondage was a tool he used to control her. If she had the means to escape it took all the pleasure out of the experience. She loved that helpless feeling, vulnerable but trusting. The first night they had met, when he found her in the warehouse late at night, trapped in prison chains, she had no option but to believe in his good intentions, to rely on him for rescue. By the end of that night she had been hooked, his “bondage bunny” as Joe called her now.

Darlene laid her head back on the pillow and closed her eyes. For one instant she strained with all her might against the straps holding her to the bed. Nothing happened, as she expected. She would have to wait patiently for Joe to wake up. Hopefully he wouldn’t make her stay in bed all day, especially on a work day. There had been the offhand comment about a trip last night, though he hadn’t volunteered any details.

A yawn from her side told her Joe was waking up. Opening her eyes she saw his arms stretch up toward the ceiling as he rolled over onto his back. She turned her head to see him continue rolling over onto his other side, facing her.

“Good morning. Already awake? Where’s my breakfast?” He smiled as he rested a hand on her stomach underneath the covers.

“Good morning to you too, and thanks for a wonderful night. I regret, breakfast will not be in bed this morning. I seem to be tied up from an earlier engagement.” Darlene wiggled in the bed restraints holding her prisoner.

Joe propped his head up on one arm and pulled the bedcovers off her with his free hand. “So I see. Any problems sleeping like that?”

“You wore me out, I went right to sleep.” Darlene nodded toward the bedroom window. “The sun woke me up a few minutes ago.”

“The sun got in your eyes? You should have said something. Here, I can fix that.” He turned away from her and reached toward his nightstand.

Good, Darlene thought, he’s going to let me go. She was thinking a nice big breakfast omelet, with chopped ham, green peppers and cheese, would be perfect. She was getting hungry.

Joe had other ideas. Instead of the key he turned back to her with a blindfold in his hand. Before she could react he had it across her eyes and was fastening it behind her head.

“Oh! I thought you wanted breakfast. Don’t you want some eggs…” Darlene’s response was cut off as the wadding of the gag went into her mouth. Again he held her head up as he fastened the gag straps behind her head.

“I do want some breakfast.” His hand closed over her breast. “And I will have it in bed.” Darlene felt his weight on top of her, pressing down as he pinched her nipple. The gag muffled her response. Joe took her forcefully as she struggled. Struggled not to get away but to pull him closer in. But she was powerless, unable to even speak much less move. At some point passion overcame self-control as she screamed and moaned into her gag.

When he finished Joe laid back down on his side of the bed. After a moment he reached behind her head and removed the blindfold. He left the gag in place.

Darlene blinked as light rushed in. Wild-eyed she looked at Joe. To say he had taken her by surprise would be an understatement. It had happened so fast. And he still had not removed her bonds. Was he planning on another round? The straps held her legs apart; she had to yield to him.

Instead he slipped an arm underneath her head and began stroking her cheek. Cuddling, intimate pillow talk, these were her precious moments when she felt loved. “You know, Darlene, you really have me hooked.” She looked up at him over the edge of her gag, bewildered at his comment. “I can’t keep my hands off you. You’re like some powerful drug. You feed my addiction to power. The more I take charge of your life the more you seem to give me. Do you really have that much confidence in my intentions?” He held up a hand. “No, don’t answer that. It was a rhetorical question.”

Darlene rolled her eyes. Very funny, Joe. With the gag in place she wasn’t answering any questions, unless it was a simple yes or no. But if she could speak she would have told him, Yes, I do trust you that much.

“I’m not going to stop. You know that?” Darlene nodded her head. She didn’t want him to hold back either. “I don’t pretend to understand why you need to be dominated, but I’m not going to discourage it. In fact, I intend to encourage it. Or should I say exploit it?

“I’m getting hungry…” Darlene’s eyes widened as she stared at him, “for some food. Okay, I’ll take a shower while you rustle up a meal. I suppose I’ll have to do something about these?” He ran a hand along the strap across her waist. “This is a tough decision. Do I starve, or do I let you go?” His brow creased in concentration. Darlene wasn’t sure if he was teasing or not. He might well leave her on the bed and forego the omelet.

A rumbling stomach won out. She watched as he got out of bed, yawned, stretched one more time, and finally picked up the key to the bed restraints. The wrist straps came off first, then the belt across her waist, and finally the straps on her knees and ankles. “You have permission to get out of bed.”

Those were the words she had been waiting for. Stiff from immobility she sat up on the edge of the bed for a moment before standing up. She started to reach behind her head to take off the gag.

Joe grabbed her hands. “No, leave it on.” His eyes gleamed. “I’ll decide when you can talk. No clothes either. Understand?” She nodded. It wasn’t difficult to figure out he was in full control freak mode. On days like this Joe could be unpredictable. She would be subject to his slightest whim. Though she was always under his control, she knew this was a sign the next few days would be one of his uninhibited weekends. She looked forward to the times when he indulged himself. The only drawback was the way he could leave her exhausted.

Joe went into their bathroom. As soon as she heard the shower door open, positive he wasn’t coming back to tell her something else, she made her way to the kitchen. She got down a skillet and put it on the stove top. Ham and eggs it would be. Eggs went into the mixing bowl, followed by chopped pieces of meat mixed with cheese. She added a bit of mild green pepper and a dash of chili powder, just the way he liked them. Darlene had never told him but cooking breakfast for Joe was something special for her. He might fix dinner occasionally but never breakfast. Maybe he understood how important it was that she cook for him first thing in the morning.

The omelets finished just as he came out of the bedroom. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt he sat down at the table as she brought out the plates of food. “Smells good. A hearty breakfast and a serving wench dressed in not much of anything, what more could a man ask for?” Darlene felt her face go red as he looked her up and down, leering all the time. “Even better, she can’t come back with a snappy answer!” He laughed.

Darlene set the plates on the placemats and turned, hands on hips, glaring at him. Her mutter came out as a garbled “mffph” through the gag.

“What was that? Yes, I’ll take orange juice and coffee. Hurry up, I’m waiting for you to sit down. It would be impolite to start without you.”

Darlene shook her head and went to the refrigerator. She knew the teasing was his way of being playful. She poured his juice and coffee, took them out to him, and then came back for her own. She assumed he was going to let her eat.

As usual Joe waited until the last minute. When she sat down he told her to lean forward. He reached behind her head and removed the gag. Darlene worked her jaw to relieve the soreness.

“Let’s eat. You have permission to speak.” He took a sip of coffee and stabbed a piece of egg with his fork.

“Thank you, sir.” The orange juice was the best she ever tasted, probably because her mouth was so dry. As she ate she kept glancing his way, wondering what was coming for the rest of the day.

He answered that question, though not to the detail she hoped for. “I’m thinking of a drive out of town, any old direction, and we’ll see where we wind up.

“When we finish eating you can go clean up. You get a break today; I’ll do the dishes and straighten up the kitchen. When you’re finished we’ll take a look at the map and see what’s interesting.”

Darlene started to protest, saying she would clean up in the kitchen. He put a stop to it immediately, holding up his hand. “No, no argument. We do it my way.”

“Yes, sir.” He had used the magic phrase that ended all discussion. She wasn’t allowed to pursue it any further. He would clean the kitchen. That brought her to the next question. “What should I wear for the trip? Do I need to dress up?” He had been vague about their destination.

Before he could answer the phone rang. Joe turned around to pick it up. She ate while he talked. She could see him making a list on the pad of paper next to the receiver. Must be a rush order, she thought, and one of the special customers if they have our home number.

“You remember Cal? He’s in a jam, again.” She would never forget Cal, the movie prop man who had inadvertently picked up the keys and left her trapped that night in the warehouse. “The writers changed his script yesterday…for a second unit location shot scheduled for this afternoon. It looks like we have a destination for our trip. His producer is desperate, willing to pay a premium price not to have to keep the trucks on location an extra day. I told him we’d deliver, but this time I’m calling in the favor.”

Darlene put her fork down and looked a question at Joe. He and Cal were old friends. It wasn’t like Joe to take advantage of the situation.

Joe laughed when he saw her expression. “No, I’m not going to gouge him. Well, no more than usual. His producer will go through the usual moaning and groaning when he gets the bill, but we’ll save him a tidy sum if they can finish off the location today. Nope, the favor is something else.” And with that Joe ended his explanation. He went back to eating.

Darlene knew he was teasing her. She didn’t have a clue about what kind of “favor” he asked of his friend. “C’mon, you can’t leave me hanging. What’s the catch? Hmmm, let me guess, lunch at work next week will be catered?”

Joe looked up from his plate. “Oh, no. It’s a surprise. You’ll have to wait and see. I can promise you it will be something very special.” He paused to take another bite off his plate. When Darlene started to speak he held up his hand. “No questions either. However, I do have some specific instructions for you this morning.

“To answer your question, the one before the phone call, I’ll show you what I want you to wear after you finish your shower. I have something very specific in mind. And after you finish with your hair I want you to tie it back instead of leaving it loose.” Normally Darlene wore her hair about her shoulders.

She risked one more question. “I don’t suppose I can ask where this location is?”

“Nope, that might spoil the surprise.” A big smile lit up his face, which Darlene did not find at all reassuring. He was plotting something for her. “I’ll need to make a few calls.”

When they finished their meal she took the plates to the sink and headed for the bathroom. A long hot shower would feel good. Joe was rinsing off the plates before putting them in the dishwasher.

After her shower she came out into the bedroom, the big towel wrapped around her. Joe was sitting on the bed, her chastity belt in one hand. “The essentials first. I cleaned it.” She could see the metalwork gleam in the sunlight from the window. “Only the finest will do for my lady. Front and center.”

That was her cue. They had developed a routine, almost a tradition by now. First she unwrapped the towel and threw it on the bed. Then she stood in front of him, legs apart, hands behind her neck, eyes staring straight ahead. He started by placing the belt around her waist, above her hips. Holding the waistband closed with one hand he reached between her legs and brought up the working part, the triangular curved shield that covered her sex. The three parts fastened together and locked in place when he turned his key. She saw him drop the loop of the keychain over his head. It ended with the inspection, where he ran his hands along her waist first, and then the lower section between her legs. Checking the fit, or so he explained. Darlene suspected he had less noble reasons, though she never objected to the electric thrill of his hands caressing her.

He smacked her behind lightly with his open hand. “All set. Be sure to tell me if it’s too tight or if it’s bothering you.” She heard the same speech every day. He was sincere too; she knew he would never force her to wear the belt if she did speak up. “Let me show you what I picked out. You can tell me if it doesn’t go together.”

Darlene followed him to her closet. Very rarely did he tell her exactly what to wear. He might make some general request but he nearly always left it up to her. She prayed it wouldn’t be something that made people snicker. He took the white satin long sleeved blouse out of her closet first, followed by the mid length dark leather skirt. He added her calf length boots to the ensemble. She was surprised and relieved. On the dressy side but it all went well together. “While you get ready I’ll make a few more calls before I check the car. Why don’t you pack a bag for the two of us? We’ll be coming home day after tomorrow. Oh yes, you are permitted to wear jewelry today.”

“Yes, sir. Joe? What do you want me to pack for you? And may I use underwear?”

“Yes, whatever you need, it’s up to you. Some extra shirts and pants for me, something casual. I’ll be in the garage.” That covered all his requirements, now she could proceed. He went out the kitchen door that opened onto the garage.

As she got ready she thought about Joe. What would her friends in school think, letting a man micromanage my appearance? And wouldn’t they be shocked if they found out I wore a real chastity belt, one I couldn’t take off? Darlene shrugged; they didn’t have a husband like Joe. Maybe one day they would understand why it was right and proper, for her if not for anyone else. She ran her hands along the steel band that crossed her waist. In the past she had envied her friends for what she thought was their sophistication; she certainly wouldn’t trade places with any of them today.

Joe had given her his instructions, now she had to carry out her assignment. Darlene had developed her own morning routine, one he never saw. She had her mental checklist, much as a pilot has a takeoff list. Brush her teeth, then her hair, the rest of her toiletries, clothes, a bit of makeup and last of all jewelry…if Joe approved. She tried never to vary the order.

She didn’t rush, but she didn’t waste time either. During the time they had been living together Darlene found she had developed a talent for virtually reading Joe’s mind. His moods were transparent to her no matter how he might try to conceal his feelings. She couldn’t explain it but more than once she actually knew the exact words he was going to say before they came out.

Her talent wasn’t completely reliable though. There were times, like this morning, when he caught her off guard. It was a part of his personality that attracted her; the way he could be spontaneous. Normally he was so thorough in planning, anticipating problems, looking for the unexpected. The combination worked for her. She could depend on him, she could rely on his judgement, but he wasn’t so staid that he became boring.

Outside in the garage Joe shut off his cell phone. He wouldn’t have to pick a destination for their excursion now. Cal’s emergency call and plea for help settled the itinerary for the weekend trip. Besides, the location sounded interesting. Just in case an opportunity arose he threw an extra bag of special items into the trunk.

Back in the bedroom Darlene stood in front of the mirror, checking to make sure everything was in place and no wrinkles showed. The satin shimmered in the light as she turned back and forth. The gap between the top of her boots and the bottom of the skirt showed a modest amount of leg, well within the range Joe allowed her in public. Satisfied, she added a small set of earrings and a gold chain necklace. No bracelet or wristwatch though, he didn’t like them and only permitted her to wear anything on her wrist when they went to a formal party.

“Car’s ready, how are you doing?” Joe asked as he came in, carrying the luggage from the garage in his hands. He tossed the empty suitcases on the bed and opened one. He stopped when he saw Darlene, a big smile on his face. “What happened? Has someone kidnapped my wife and replaced her with a movie star?”

“Oh, Joe! I’m no screen beauty.” She held out her arms and turned around. “Is this okay? Should I take off the necklace?”

“Perfect, don’t change a thing. Can you set out something for me to wear while I wash my hands? You can pack while I get ready.” It was ironic that he might dictate her appearance in minute detail but left it to her to not only buy all his clothes but also decide what would be appropriate for him to wear. She walked over to his closet and took out a sports shirt and a nicer pair of slacks for him. She wouldn’t look out of place on his arm but he wouldn’t attract attention either. That was the way he wanted it. As he had explained once, his function was to be the drab backdrop against which she would stand out. He didn’t allow her to argue the point.

While he was shaving she began packing. In went a change for him and something light and casual for her. She added a pair of comfortable shoes for herself, hoping she wouldn’t have to wear the boots tomorrow too. She closed the suitcase cover as he came out of the bathroom. In typical male style he dressed and was ready to go in a few minutes.

“Come here,” he told her, holding out his arms. In a flash she was in his embrace. “You feel good. You look good too. Funny, I have this sudden craving for breakfast in bed.”

“Joe!” She hit him lightly on the shoulder. “Stop fooling around. We’re going to be late for work. And I thought we were supposed to be going on a trip too?”

She felt his hands wandering south of her waist. “The office? I could drive fast. That way we could leave later…”

She pushed his hands away. “You men, you only think of one thing. You are not going to get a speeding ticket.”

He sighed, feigning disappointment. “And what is this one thing we always think of?”

“Cars, or fishing, or football, I never remember which.” Darlene grinned.

“Hockey, out of season for football. Okay, you have everything? I’ll get the suitcases. By the way, I got hold of the office. The guys at the warehouse are picking Cal’s order now. We’ll go to the office first to load the boxes in the car, and then drive out to his location. That’s going to be our weekend getaway. It’s a very, umm, unique place.”

Darlene perked up at the chance to visit a location while filming was in progress. Her ambition was to work behind the camera, hopefully in art direction. “Where’s it at? Any well-known talent? Will it take long to get there? Where are we staying overnight…”

Joe held up his hands. “Slow down. All I have is a list of stuff and directions to find the place. The drive is kinda long so we’ll come back Sunday. The rest you’ll find out when we arrive. Cal says we can watch the filming. Who knows, maybe he’ll put you to work. And just wait till you see where we’re spending the night.”

She could tell he was holding back. “Just exactly where is this location? We’re going to stay overnight, so it’s some kind of hotel? Or is it one of those old Victorian style mansions?” Joe had a habit of leaving out key details.

He shook his head. “Nope, no details, you have to wait and see. A hotel? Well, yes, I suppose so, not open to the public at the moment but the place can certainly accommodate a number of guests. I think you’ll find it intriguing. The room décor alone is enough justification for a visit.”

Joe picked up the suitcases off the bed. “But first we better get to the office.”

To The Office

Traffic on the freeway was normal, the normal state being bumper to bumper, moving at a stop and start crawl. Having grown up in Los Angeles it didn’t bother Joe, but for someone like Darlene, used to the wide open spaces of the rural Midwest where a traffic jam was two cars and a tractor on the same road, it always made her anxious. Worst of all it gave her time to think.

Today it was thinking about going to work with the belt on. It wasn’t the first time Joe had made her wear it out in public, but those had been weekends or at night, in places where no one was likely to notice. The office was a different matter. She’d be under a microscope, and if anyone realized what she was wearing, the news would spread to everyone by the end of the day. If he carried her through the front door slung over his shoulder, bound, gagged and stripped naked, it wouldn’t be any more embarrassing.

The leather skirt was heavy and on the tight side. Combined with the longer length it was restrictive when she walked. Her grin showed in the window’s reflection. Of course it is. That’s why Joe likes it so much. One plus, the stiff leather hid the outlines of the belt around her waist. She turned to stare at Joe, wondering if he had picked it out for just that reason.

He caught her look. “What?” he asked. “Did I forget something? I checked; the stove was definitely off.”

“Nothing. Just thinking about work.” She could ask, but it wasn’t that important. Besides, it made her feel better believing it wasn’t just a coincidence. “Is there anything I need to do on the computer before we leave for this mysterious destination?”

Joe exited onto the off ramp near the office. “I’ll have to double check the order while it’s loaded into the car. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to get it done, and clear off my desk. I’ll let you know a few minutes before we are ready to go. Otherwise there’s nothing special you need to do. You’re working on those medical books right now, aren’t you?”

Darlene nodded. They were the treasures she had spotted on their last trip, beautifully illustrated medical texts more than a century old. She had listed a few on the internet to see what they would bring in, since it was outside the normal business. “I’ll check the auction websites and see how we’re doing. I’m still not sure if an auction house might be a better choice.”

He made a turn into the parking lot. “It’s up to you. When it comes to rare books I don’t have a clue. I can tell you, to the penny, what a B-movie script is worth, but when it’s musty old books, no idea. I’ll trust your judgment.”

Darlene wasn’t an expert either, but she had done some research on it. From what she could tell the books weren’t so hard to sell as to justify a broker. After house commissions they’d likely get less than an outright auction sale on the internet. Besides, it was exciting to watch the bids come in.

Joe parked in their spot under the awning. Darlene took a deep breath. When Joe opened her door she carefully got out and ran her hands down her skirt, to make sure there were no telltale bulges.

Inside the building Joe went right to the shipping desk, to check on Cal’s order. Darlene waved to the guys in the warehouse on her way to the accounting offices in the back. There was more than the usual number of looks from the pickers and forklift operators, which didn’t hurt her ego one bit. She didn’t hear any snickers of hastily repressed laughter, reassurance her secret had not been revealed by telltale outlines.

The back office door was open, so she went right to her desk. There were several work desks in the small crowded room. Joe might be the boss, but Darlene didn’t get many perks from it. Her desk was still the smallest, and her job hadn’t changed. About all that had altered was the time she came in and left. Since that was dictated by Joe no one was going to call her on it.

She pulled out her chair and carefully sat down. The front of the belt pressed into her waist, not painfully, but a firm reminder it was there.

An hour later Joe showed up at the back office door. “Afraid I’m going to have to take Darlene for the rest of the day,” he told the office manager. “We have an urgent delivery and I need her help.”

On the Road

Lunch was a leisurely stop at an upscale roadside eatery. Water came in a glass instead of a plastic cup, and they even had real cloth napkins. The quality of the food matched the setting, no indigestible hamburgers. Joe assured her they had the time and he wanted to relax and enjoy her company. Darlene still had no idea where they were headed. She tried to bring the subject up while they ate.

Joe made it clear she would have to wait. “Our little adventure starts on the next stretch of road. You already have a clue. I’m not going to say any more.”

She already had a clue? His remark left her puzzled. She nibbled on her salad, trying to figure out a way to pry some more information from him. What clue? Was it some remark he had made, or maybe the movie they watched the night before? For the moment she would have to concede defeat.

Back on the road they came to an empty stretch running through the desert. A nagging sense of recognition was in the back of Darlene’s head but she couldn’t figure out why. She didn’t recall ever having driven along the same highway. There wasn’t much traffic in either direction.

She was busy checking out the radio when Joe suddenly slowed down and turned into a rest stop. A hedge of high bushes separated it from the road. They were alone. Joe opened his door and got out. “Need to use the facilities? There’s nothing else close by.” She got out and looked around. The place looked familiar but she couldn’t place it. Purse slung over her shoulder she followed behind Joe on the sidewalk to the rest rooms. The heels of her boots made a tapping sound on the pavement, loud against the still background of the surrounding desert.

Inside it was surprisingly clean and well-maintained. One of the drawbacks of her chastity belt was the extra time in the ladies room. Fortunately the belt supplier had provided some excellent information gathered from the experiences of other women. She came prepared.

When she walked out the entrance Joe was leaning against the car. He held something in one hand but she didn’t recognize what it was. The parking lot was still empty. He didn’t look impatient so she didn’t hurry back to the car. It felt good to get a little exercise.

Joe stood up as she came closer. He kept one hand out of sight, the one that held something. “All set, everything okay?” he asked.

“Yes sir. Thanks for stopping, Joe. I know this place, but I can’t remember how. I’m sure I’ve never been here. I can’t explain it. Déjà vu maybe?”

“You saw a picture of it, recently, but it was a picture from fifty some years ago.”

“Fifty…” The clue clicked into place. It was a scene from the movie last night. “The movie! This is the place where she is kidnapped, but she doesn’t know it. The building was different then but the rest is the same?”

‘That’s right. She’s driving home at dusk and is pulled over by a patrol car.” His hand came out from the behind his leg. She saw the metal handcuffs for the first time. “She denies it but the cop claims she’s drunk. He places her under arrest for drunk driving.

“Set your purse down and turn around, Miss. Hands behind your back. You are under arrest for driving while intoxicated.” He stepped forward, pushing open one side of the cuffs with his thumb.

Without a word of protest Darlene slid her purse off her shoulder and dropped it to the sidewalk. The mystery was solved; Joe was going to re-enact a scene from the movie. In hindsight the connections were obvious. Same road, same rest stop, she was even dressed in approximately the same way, except the cute young actress in the movie had a much shorter late 60’s style mini-skirt. Meekly she turned around and put her hands behind her back as he had ordered. The steel cuffs closed around her wrists. The clicking sound of the ratchet was loud against the silent backdrop of the desolate scenery. He made a slight adjustment on one wrist before turning her around to face him. She forgot there was one exception to his ban on wearing a bracelet, even when he permitted her some jewelry. Joe liked to refer to them as “matching charm bracelets”.

In the movie the main character didn’t know the cop who had arrested her was an imposter. That explained the name of the movie, Predator’s Highway, the isolated desert road where he prowled for unsuspecting victims. In character, she began to plead with him to let her go. “Please officer, I haven’t had a thing. I’m not drunk! Let me take a sobriety test, I can prove it.” She tried to remember the dialog.

“I’m sorry, Miss, but it's department policy. You’ll have to remain in custody until we can arrange a blood test at the station.” Joe picked up her purse and opened her car door. While he was looking away she tested the cuffs, pulled against them, and finally tried to slip one off. No luck, not that she expected any. Joe had too much practice using handcuffs on her to make such a simple mistake. He took hold of her arm and dragged her to the car. If it had been anyone else but him she would have been terrified. When he kidnapped her it was exciting, but without the fear of being harmed.

He fastened her seat belt to keep her in place. Darlene stared down at the buckle, wondering if she could reach it with the cuffs on. Possibly, but it would take some twisting around. Joe had left her some slack but not much. It would be a challenge if she tried.

In the movie the fake cop drives her to a deserted junkyard. By some miracle, the first of many, she breaks loose and runs into the maze of scrap metal. Much of the movie revolves around her trying to hide, while still handcuffed, while the crazed psycho runs around loudly shouting all the terrible things he has planned for her. She continually avoids him, often by remarkable coincidences, without a smudge of dirt on her mini-skirt or one hair out of place. At the end the predator does catch her, just as the police arrive. In the ending credits he’s taken off to prison.

“Please tell me we aren’t staying at a junkyard tonight,” Darlene pleaded. She did not look forward to being chased around piles of old cars.

Joe laughed. “Not to worry, but we’re not done with the movie just yet, so keep your eyes open. Meanwhile, if you start to feel an itch in your nose…”

“Oh no you don’t!” Darlene warned. She leaned forward so she could point a finger at him from behind her back. “I know that routine. My nose does not itch and you’re not going to drive me crazy by planting some suggestion in my head.” She had to put a stop to it quickly, because she knew he could do precisely that if he kept on. Within five minutes she’d be begging him to scratch her nose.

“Okay, okay, I won’t,” Joe promised. “Can’t blame a guy for trying though.”

Arrival

The paint was dull faded grey where it hadn’t worn down to the bare concrete and cinder block. The towers on the corners still had roofs but Darlene could see rust streaks running down from the grills over the windows. Even from the outside it had a feel of the hopeless, massive and lacking in color, something that drained the soul of life.

Joe nodded toward the towers as he drove up to the main gate. “Welcome to the local Graybar Hilton, as it’s not so affectionately known to its guests. It was one of the finer state-sponsored resorts for those among us who view laws as only a minor inconvenience. Those watch towers are all empty now but when this place was open there were armed guards there 24 hours a day. None of the inside guards were allowed to carry firearms. It was a maximum security facility when it was open.”

Twenty foot high walls stretched to either side of the gate. A large sign warned potential trespassers of dire consequences. “I gather it’s closed now? What’s going to happen to all this?” Darlene asked as Joe stopped the car. Like the rest stop there was a nagging feeling she’d seen the place before.

“For now it will be mothballed, shut down except for some minimal maintenance. It might be sold if they find someone who wants the real estate, in which case the place will be demolished. Until then the state controller has the authority to rent it out.”

He unbuckled her seat belt. “Lean forward and I’ll let you go.” Eager to work out the kinks in her sore shoulders she did as he ordered, holding out her cuffed hands to him. He took a small key out of his shirt pocket and unlocked her wrists. “Now, I’d like to march you in there like a normal arrival but we shouldn’t upstage the talent. Makes the director’s job all the more difficult when he has to pacify some pouting starlet.” He closed the handcuffs and tossed them in the glove compartment.

Suddenly it came to her. “The ending credits! The car with the villain was heading toward this place.”

“Yup, this is it, though age and neglect has taken a toll on the appearance. You wait here while I go bang on the door. Cal is expecting us so someone should be waiting.” Joe opened the car door on his side and got out. Darlene watched him go to a side door next to the main gate and push a buzzer.

The door opened immediately but she couldn’t see who was inside. Joe spoke to the person in the doorway, and then headed back to the car.

“That was one of the production assistants,” he told her as he got back in the car. With a rumbling sound the gate in front of them started to rise. “Looks like we got here right on time. They’re setting up for the scene now where they need the props we brought. Want to watch?”

Darlene saw the lighting and equipment trucks in the courtyard as the outer gate rose. The inner gate, usually closed too, was left open. Gaffers were carrying in electrical equipment through a large open door. “Could we, Joe? I’d love to see what’s going on.” Whenever possible she looked for a chance to watch the professionals in action, trying to pick up the tricks of the trade.

Joe smiled, knowing she would jump at the chance. “Cal put in a word with the director; it’s all arranged.” Cal was a movie prop man who often called on Joe for unique items on short notice. “Our emergency delivery means they can finish filming late this afternoon instead of tomorrow. Considering what it costs to keep everyone out here an extra day, it wasn’t a problem.”

He parked the car in a corner, away from the big trucks. As they got out Cal came out of a side door, practically running toward their car. “Joe! You couldn’t have timed it better. Got the boxes?”

While Darlene looked around Joe opened the trunk of the car. “Two boxes, one for guard and one for inmate, just as you ordered.” He handed Cal a clipboard with the shipping manifest.

Cal motioned for two men behind him to pick up the boxes while he signed the receipt. “You’re a lifesaver.” He waved to Darlene before turning back to his workmen. “Run those up to Corinne Guzman on the second floor right away. She’s expecting this stuff.”

“Corrine is doing the art direction? For this location or the whole movie?” Joe asked, slipping an arm around Darlene as she walked up next to him.

“For the whole movie, or actually all the episodes. It’s some kind of soap opera for one of the Spanish language TV networks. You’re in luck, Darlene; most of these are shot in Mexico or South America. You get to see one of the few big budget telenovelas produced here in the U.S. They’re a staple on Latin American networks. The production, style, acting, it’s all a little different from what you’re used to.” Cal knew about her career ambitions.

“Thanks, Cal, for getting me in to watch. Is this in English or Spanish?” Darlene asked. Like anyone living in Los Angeles she’d picked up a little Spanish but about all she could manage were restaurant menus.

“Dialog is in Spanish but the crew and cast speaks English so you’ll know what’s going on. Ready? Let’s go on up.” Cal led the way through the courtyard door as Joe and Darlene followed. As they went up the stairs Cal filled them in on the script.

“Naturally the story is a stereotypical mix of corrupt politicians and drug cartels. The twist here is the crooked prosecutor has managed to get the drug lord’s wife thrown in prison and won’t let her out until he gets a cut of the cartel’s profits. We’re on the last scene at this location now, something about the guards assaulting the wife to put pressure on the drug lord. The director decided to order a rewrite last night, which is why you got the rush call this morning. I was sure we’d have to spend another day here, and we’re already over budget.” Cal held open the door at the top of the stairs for Darlene.

“Thank you, Cal,” Darlene said as she went by. She liked having men open doors for her and never failed to acknowledge the courtesy.

“How long do you have the building?” Joe asked. At the end of the hall came shouts and the noise of power tools as the scene was being prepared.

“Through the weekend, today, Saturday, and Sunday. We didn’t plan on staying that long though. We had to rent for a full week even if we don’t use it.” Cal waved to a woman on the far side of the set as the three of them entered a large room. “That’s Corrine. You stay close to her, Darlene. Mind the union rules and don’t touch anything. I have to get back to work, Joe. You okay from here?”

“Sure Cal, and thanks again. I’ve met Corrine before.” Joe took hold of Darlene’s arm and steered her toward the makeshift art department in the far corner.

“Joe? You sure I’m not imposing on anyone? I don’t want to hold them up.” Much as she wanted to see how the show was produced she knew time was money, especially for television productions.

“Not to worry. Listen and learn, ask questions if she isn’t too busy. Corrine Guzman has a good reputation and plenty of screen credits, mostly on television mini-series, but no big name theater movies. There’s no better teacher for the day to day, in the trenches job of art direction and research.”

Corrine was busy checking the script and some sketches as they approached. She looked up for a moment. “Hi Joe, haven’t seen you in a while. You must be Darlene? Never thought Joe would settle down. Congratulations.” She hugged Darlene and immediately turned to shout in Spanish at a group of what appeared to be actors as they walked in one of the doors.

“Over here! Venga aqui!” She yelled, waving her arm to attract their attention. “Okay Darlene, you start right now. We need to check how the actors look in place on the set so we can position the cameras. Take a hike, Joe; us girls are working.” Joe tightened his arm around Darlene for just a moment before he let go and headed to the back wall where he’d be out of the way.

“C’mon, we need to get everyone roughly in the position in this storyboard.” Corrine handed a sketchbook of drawings to Darlene. “I have the background in place but we were waiting for the boxes you delivered to get the actors in full costume. This scene is an early one, where the wife is brought into the cellblock for the first time.”

They met the group of actors halfway, in front of an open cell door. Even without a script Darlene could guess the characters. The young, amply endowed woman with the short and extremely low cut prison uniform was obviously playing the wife and soon to be damsel in distress. The large, muscular woman in the guard uniform would be the stooge for the drug lord, and the older woman in the tailored business suit with the tight skirt and high heels would be the warden.

“Cal! Where’s their stuff?” Darlene jumped as Corrine yelled for the prop man. “Sorry about that, but sometimes you gotta make yourself heard. Cameras and lighting can’t set up until we’re ready, so we get priority right now. Until the director shows up I’m in charge.”

“Right here, Corrine. Max, your box is for the guard. Jim, set your box down next to Miss Enriquez.” Always be polite to the name talent, Darlene remembered. Miss Enriquez would be the suffering wife, the lead actress role. Cal pulled a pocket knife out of a holder on his belt and slit open the tape on the top of the boxes.

“Let’s get the guard set up first, Cal. They’ll enter from the left, cell door opens to the right so it won’t interfere.” Corrine pushed the barred door closed. The prop manager’s assistant rummaged through the bubble packing until he found the plastic bags buried inside. One contained a black leather, basket weave style belt, the next a badge, and the third a guard’s baton. Darlene frowned, sure she had seen some of those items before.

“Darlene? Hold up that sketch. Okay, badge on the left side, and put the belt high.” The large actress playing the guard, whom Darlene assumed wasn’t famous as no one had used her name yet, put on the wide Sam Browne belt and dropped the truncheon through a side ring. Corrine pinned on the badge in the same position as the sketch. “That looks okay.” She checked a note underneath the drawing of one character. “Nothing for the warden.”

Gruff orders turned to polite requests when Corrine turned to the lead. “Miss Enriquez? You will be brought in as the new prisoner. The script change calls for you to be in restraints. For this scene we will not use a stunt double as you will only have to walk from the entrance to this cell door. We will also do several close-up shots too. Be sure to walk slowly as the chains will be real.” Darlene noted that Corrine took out the items in the second box herself, instead of one of the prop men.

When she saw the handcuffs, leg irons and waist transport belt she recognized the restraints at once. They were the same set she had been trapped in the night Joe had found her. Does our Miss Enriquez know they are the real deal? Darlene thought to herself. She’s lucky; no one would dare lose the key here.

“Here, Cal,” Corrine said as she handed the waist belt to the prop man. “We won’t use this. The cuffs should be enough.” She loosened the twist tie holding a set of keys on the handcuffs and handed them to Cal as well. “Don’t lose those!” she admonished him.

Darlene watched with a twinge of envy as Corrine fastened the handcuffs on the young actress, and then knelt down to place the leg chains around her ankles. “Speak up if they are too tight, Maria, or if they begin to hurt. Remember to be careful when you walk. We don’t want you to trip and fall.”

The actress raised her arms and pulled on the cuffs. From experience Darlene could see they weren’t going to come off. The scene sketch Darlene was holding showed the wife framed in the cell door, shackled, with the guard threatening her. Darlene figured that was the camera angle Corrine wanted to check.

“They do not hurt. Por favor, where is my place?” The actress, Maria, dropped her arms and studied her hands. “Will there be a glare from the metal? How should I stand?”

“Darlene? Hold up that sketch again for Miss Enriquez.” Darlene stepped forward and lifted the book. Corrine turned back to the actress. “You will enter from that door,” she pointed to the door to the left, “then walk to this cell door. It will be open. You will stand in the doorway, face the camera, and the dialog will start.

“If you could stand there now, we’ll check the lighting and camera angle for glare. Claro?” Corrine stepped back as a cameraman began setting up a camera.

Comprendo, gracias. I will start from the entrance.” She turned and went back to the door she had come in a few minutes earlier. Her first few steps were hesitant as she tested the restriction of the chain between her ankles. Darlene had to smile as she remembered her own late night experience.

“Excuse me, Miss, we need to set up a reflector where you’re standing.” Engrossed in watching the actress struggle with the chains Darlene hadn’t noticed the man who came up behind her. She quickly stepped aside to make room for him. “Thanks,” he said as he began to adjust the pole height and angle.

“Behind the camera, Darlene, over here.” Corrine waved her arm, showing Darlene where to stand. The actress came back in and stood in front of the camera. Darlene worked her way around to Corrine’s side behind the lights, microphone booms and cables. “Look for anything out of place that the camera will pick up, especially in the background, or a reflection.” Corrine waved to the actors in the scene. “Could everyone stand in their spot?”

A man with headphones around his neck came up and whispered something to Corrine. “And could we have some quiet for a sound check?” she shouted. Darlene was surprised at how quickly the noise died down as everyone stopped. The sound engineer pointed to each of the actresses and started making adjustments to the microphones. Corrine took hold of Darlene’s arm and pulled her toward the back of the room.

“How does it look? Anything wrong?” Corrine whispered.

Darlene studied the scenery, looking for any flaw. There wasn’t much to see, just a table and bed in the cell behind the bars. The table was empty. Then she saw the small detail everyone else had missed. The question in her mind was if she should mention it, since it would be difficult to explain how she knew it was wrong.

“Umm, Corrine?” Darlene hesitated, unsure if she should point it out.

“What? You see something? You have better eyes than I do.”

“Well, for starters I doubt inmate uniforms are so revealing.”

Corrine laughed. “In the real world no, but in TV Land you won’t find any other kind. Costume doesn’t count. If it makes her look good it’s gonna stay. Anything else?”

Darlene was grateful the lights were dim where they were standing, since she could feel the blush turning her face red. It brought back memories of her own adventure in Joe’s warehouse, and the way Joe had gotten an eyeful from the skimpy uniform she had been wearing; the one that was still in her closet at home, at Joe’s insistence.

“There is one other thing. The handcuffs Miss Enriquez has on? The keyholes are facing forward. Police always put them on the other way, away from the hands.” Joe did the same, even though it didn’t make a difference since she never had the key.

“Really?” Corrine leaned forward, staring at the handcuffs. “You’re right. I missed that one. You have a sharp eye. Just a minute.” She looked around the set. “Cal!”

The prop man was standing against the back wall, talking to Joe. At the sound of his name he turned around. Corrine gestured for him to follow as she walked around the camera. Darlene watched as Cal reversed the handcuffs. When they finished she glanced back and saw Joe watching her, a big smile on his face. He knows, she thought to herself, and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, hey, I’m an expert.

Packing It In

While Darlene watched, the last of the equipment boxes were being loaded on the trucks in the courtyard. She leaned against the side of their car, out of the way. One by one the large vehicles were driving away as the location was shut down. The scene she had watched was the last one on the schedule, though it had taken some time to film as there were several takes from different camera angles. Production would move to a sound stage in Burbank next week.

Joe was talking to Cal and one of the producers at the other end of the courtyard, by the open door where the crates were being wheeled out. Probably trying to drum up a little extra business, Darlene thought. It had been a great afternoon. While the actual filming was in progress Corrine had taken her out into the hallway where she had some books and a laptop on a folding table. The two of them had sat there for hours as Corrine showed her the research book, the photos, newspaper clippings, the sketches and how it all fit with the script, the shooting schedule and the director’s preferences. And most important, Corrine explained how she was able to cut a few corners to stay on budget. Darlene had learned more in one day than any book could ever teach her.

Joe was shaking hands with the producer. He had to wait for two more trucks to leave before he could cross over to the car. Darlene stood up as he came closer.

“Have a good time? Where did you two disappear to?” He asked as he circled her waist with an arm, pulling her close.

He wasn’t shy about being affectionate in public, and he didn’t let her get away with shyness either. She put her hands around his neck and snuggled in close. “Oh, Joe! It was wonderful. Corrine was so nice; I have to send her a thank you note. Do you have her address? I learned so much, I can’t remember it all.”

Joe looked down at her face, pleased to hear the excitement in her voice and her animated expression. He wanted her to have every opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming an art director, and never missed a chance to help it along, even if it wasn’t the most economical of business dealings. The props could have been sent by courier, and that would have been the normal procedure considering the small size of the order. But if he could call in a few favors for Darlene’s benefit the cost and effort wasn’t so important. In this case he lost money on the deal by delivering in person, but he didn’t care. Darlene’s happiness and her dreams were far more important.

Not that he couldn’t be a little selfish too. He patted the set of keys in his pocket. The producer had been happy to accommodate him after Cal had mentioned the circumstances. The director had put in a good word too.

“Hey, Joe, Darlene! Catch you next time!” That was Cal shouting out his pickup truck window as he headed for the gate. Joe turned around to wave. The last two cars, director and producer, followed him out. Joe and Darlene were left alone in the courtyard. The sun was low in the sky, leaving them in the shadow of the high walls.

Joe pulled the key ring out of his jacket pocket and dangled them in front of Darlene. “Guess what I’ve got?” He leered at her while letting the hand on her waist drift downward.

Darlene looked around, realizing everyone had left. The plan had been for the two of them to stay in a motel overnight and go back to the city in the morning. She suspected Joe had made new arrangements.

Her eyes narrowed as she studied his face. When he smiled like that she knew it meant one thing only. “So, are we going to make our own movie?”

Joe laughed. “No, I forgot the camera.” His expression changed to one of feigned concentration. “You know, we could rehearse though. Unless you’d rather watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island on the motel TV all night long?”

Darlene shuddered. “Oh no, sir, anything but that! I’ll take solitary confinement instead.”

Joe scratched his chin, as though lost in thought. “Well, maybe something could be arranged, if you had your heart set on it…”

They both started laughing. Darlene looked up at the walls surrounding her. It wasn’t exactly a luxury resort hotel but for one weekend it might have possibilities. She looked forward to exploring the place with Joe. Though the thrill was tempered by a small amount of anxiety knowing Joe would see to it she would have some difficulties to overcome.

“C’mon, I put our bags in the warden’s private rooms, in the administrative area. I negotiated some eats from the catering truck too.”

A Private Tour

“How about we wander around and get familiar with this wing first?” Joe asked before he took a bite of the hamburger. At the producer’s request the caterer had left them with some food for the weekend, since they were helping out by filling in for a temporary night watchman. They were eating in the warden’s office.

“Okay,” Darlene agreed between bites on a French fry. “Do you know about the history around here? Are we going to run into any ghosts?”

He shook his head while sipping his Coke. “Nope, other than it was a maximum security prison built during Prohibition. No shortage of gangsters back then. It’s been closed for the last two years, something about being too expensive to upgrade it to meet new federal regulations. I think it’s in limbo; the Legislature doesn’t want to build a new prison but doesn’t have the money to refurbish this one. Considering how old this place is it would be cheaper to tear it down rather than fix it up. My guess is it’ll be demolished.

“Cal told me there’s usually a watchman at night, but he’s on vacation while the production company was here. They were going to leave some poor associate producer here for the rest of the weekend to fulfill their agreement, until I offered to stand in. The producer was happy to hand me the keys and get everyone out of here.”

Darlene snorted. “Yeah, good ole Joe always helping out. There wasn’t some ulterior motive to your volunteering?”

“Me? Of course not. Though why look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth? How often does one get to spend a weekend in one of our more outstanding state reformatories?”

Darlene shook her head. “I hope never, at least at the taxpayer’s expense. Still, I am curious.” She lowered her voice, “and maybe feeling a little adventurous too. Seeing little Miss Enriquez run around all afternoon nicely bundled up in cuffs made me jealous. You were paying entirely too much attention to that soap opera.”

Joe winked, “Just trying to pick up a few pointers. And you needn’t worry about being deprived. I have it on good authority, mine, your wishes will be satisfied in the near future.” He looked at his watch. “In about five minutes by my estimate.”

Darlene gathered up the Styrofoam containers and dumped them in a garbage sack. “So long? Don’t put off till, uhh, five minutes from now what you can do immediately.” She stood up and put her hands on her hips.

“Then if you would be so good as to accompany me, Miss 34912, I’ll be happy to escort you on a personal tour of our delightful facility. You will of course be our guest here. For the next seven to ten years, I believe, depending on the parole board.” He held up his hands. “Oh no, don’t thank me. I insist you enjoy our hospitality. Trust me, it’s my pleasure.”

He’s got that last line right, she thought, he does so enjoy this. And so do I. He held open the office door, motioning for her to precede him. Holding onto her arm he took her down the corridor to a door marked “Intake”. So it begins, looks like I’m going to be an inmate for the weekend. The only question left was the role Joe would choose for himself, either demented warden or sadistic guard.

The intake processing area consisted of a small room with a tile floor, and one table against the wall. She recognized a bag from the car underneath the table. Joe picked it up and set it on the table.

“It will be necessary for you to disrobe. Regulations require a thorough search, I’m sure you understand? Place your clothes on the table and step back.” From his insincere smile and false courtesy she figured he would be the warden, superficially concerned for his charges but underneath a warped monster. She hesitantly began unbuttoning her blouse.

The crack of his open palm slapping the table sounded like a rifle shot. “I don’t have all day, or night. Faster, if you would.” Play acting or not, his stern expression triggered something in Darlene. She shed her clothes in record time. When he waved his hand she backed up.

“That’s better. Now, legs apart, and hands behind your neck. We don’t want any contraband smuggled in.” Darlene did as he ordered, staring straight ahead as he had taught her. Joe slowly walked around her, nodding his head in approval.

This was a favorite scenario for Joe, and one she looked forward to time after time. She knew exactly what he wanted, her obedience, and she delivered it. He stopped behind her, out of sight. She focused on a spot on the far wall, concentrating on holding still. She had to be perfect for him, following his every order exactly.

Joe studied her back, noting the small details. Her hands were on her neck, fingers entwined. Head held high, feet wide apart, elbows straight out and arms back. He knew she wouldn’t move an inch until he gave her permission. This was their own private, intimate tradition, the ritual where they would change into their mindsets of complete submission and total domination. From now on she would obey without question or hesitation, knowing he would keep her safe from harm.

On impulse he put a hand on her hip, below the strip of steel encircling her waist, and let it linger before running his fingertips down her leg. The sharp intake of her breathing told him it had the desired effect. He felt a tremor but she didn’t move. He suspected it took all of her self control to keep still. It would be interesting to see how she reacted to her new environment, if it reinforced or detracted from her submissive nature.

Joe walked back to the table in front of Darlene and sat down on the edge. “I’m pleased to see you fitting in so well. Remember the keyword here is obedience. Follow orders, mind the regulations, don’t make trouble, and you will be rewarded. If you don’t, well, we have ways to convince you to cooperate. Unpleasant ways. Keep that in mind.”

Darlene watched him reach into his bag and take out a familiar garment. “This will be your issue uniform. You are expected to keep a clean and neat appearance at all times. Put it on.” He held it out to her.

Darlene knew what it was immediately. It was one of Joe’s favorites, the jail uniform she had worn from the old movie when he had caught her in the warehouse. She slipped it on while he watched. Made for a sleazy drive-in movie, the front was cut low, all but exposing her breasts. The hem line was as short as the mini-skirts of the same era. It was a tight fit and didn’t conceal much. She tugged on the bottom, in some forlorn hope it would stretch.

“Looks like it’s your size.” He rummaged in the bag again. “Hmm, I regret I must inform you I seem to have misplaced your shoes. For the moment you will have to go barefoot.” Darlene would have been surprised if he had pulled out a pair of shoes. It was one of the ways he liked to control her, depriving her of all but a bare minimum of clothing. Besides, he needed the room in the bag for more important items for her to wear. Knowing Joe he was sure to have some “accessories” for her.

“If you would be so good as to put your hands behind your neck again? And I would like you to turn and face the wall.” He phrased it as a question but she knew it was an order and complied. She couldn’t see what he took out next but the faint rattle of metal on metal gave a hint. Joe came up close behind her and reached around her waist. Forbidden to move she didn’t see what he had in his hands but when he pulled the waist chain tight she knew it had to be some kind of restraint. The click of a padlock and the weight against her back confirmed she wouldn’t be taking it off.

“Lower your arms,” he ordered. When she dropped her hands she felt something dangling to either side of the waist chain. A quick glance down confirmed they were handcuffs, one on each side, connected on a short chain to the longer one around her body. She expected him to immediately fasten the cuffs around her wrists but instead he went back to the bag again.

“This is something new I found in a police supply catalog. It looked interesting so I thought you might like to give them a try and tell me what you think.” Facing the wall, not allowed to turn around, Darlene had no idea what he was talking about. Her curiosity was satisfied when he slipped some sort of stiff glove over her right hand, followed by a matching one on her left. They were a snug fit but not uncomfortable. Joe opened the handcuffs and closed them around each wrist, making sure each cuff went around the glove too. After he checked the fit he turned her around with a hand on her arm.

“What do you think? They are called tubes. The idea is to prevent prisoners from using their hands while being transported to some other location.” Joe stepped back and looked over his handiwork.

From his tone of voice Darlene knew she had permission to move again. She looked down at her covered hands. The gloves were round cylinders, nylon on the outside and what felt like some kind of softer lining inside. The stiff outer cover took away any dexterity in her fingers. Effectively she had no hands. There was sewn on straps over the wrist that the handcuff fit in, ensuring they stayed on. She pulled against the chains, testing the limit. The chain around her waist didn’t budge, forcing her to keep her arms at her side.

She looked up at Joe, who was studying her carefully. “I can’t seem to use my hands at all. These are almost as bad as a straitjacket.” She tried to move her arms around. “At least I have a little more movement.”

He reached down and took hold of one of the hand covers. “Squeeze as hard as you can. Try to grab hold of my hand.”

Darlene tried but couldn’t bend the thick material. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t. I’m not strong enough.”

“Excellent. It seems they work as advertised.” Joe’s hand lingered on her wrist for a moment. “I apologize for the inconvenience. Those pesky regulations again, but rest assured it’s for your own safety.” She doubted Joe was afraid she would overpower him. He turned back to the bag and reached in one more time. Hidden from his view she tested the handcuffs again, trying to pull her wrists out of the steel embrace. They weren’t coming off and her hands weren’t going anywhere until he let her go. As usual she didn’t see where he put the keys, though they must be in his pocket.

With a glance in her direction Joe pulled out the leg chains. This particular pair, also from that old movie, had been shortened years ago for a close up camera angle. The connecting chain was only half the regulation length, making it particularly difficult for the wearer to walk at more than a slow shuffle. Running or kicking was impossible. Even climbing stairs was a formidable challenge. Holding them in one hand he knelt down at her side. This time he didn’t bother to offer an explanation.

From long practice he knew just how much to close the cuffs around her ankles. And she knew from the same experience how restrictive they were. As usual he checked the fit, slipping a finger between each cuff and her skin. She was truly helpless now, barely able to walk and unable to use her arms or hands.

“There, I think we’re ready for that tour now. Fortunately we have all night.” That was a pointed remark to remind her she would not be in a hurry. “All set for that tour?” He looked at her. From the tone of his voice it was actually a question to see if the restraints were hurting her. For all that he liked to see her bound and helpless he still looked out for her safety. She appreciated his concern, since she had no choice but to trust him.

“Yes, sir, whenever you like.” As if I have a say, Darlene thought. But she didn’t mind. The comfortable warm glow of submission, of letting go and relying on him, giving herself entirely over to his control, was settling in. It was more than a simple desire to please him; she had to feel his power over her. It was some deep-seated need only he could fulfill, and only when he stripped her of any ability to resist, physically and emotionally. As much as she wanted to give, she could never be satisfied unless he took what he wanted, without asking. It was her way of knowing she, beyond any doubt, filled his every need.

Joe didn’t seem to be in any hurry either. Rather than lead her to the door he sat down on the table again, arms folded, and stared at her. At first she stared right back but quickly dropped her gaze to the floor. His eyes had a look of raw hunger. Darlene knew it was for her, and if he didn’t control himself there wasn’t much she could do about it.

The moment passed and Joe stood up, taking hold of her upper arm in his come along grip. “Now where should we start? You’ve seen some of the second floor this afternoon, so how about we begin somewhere else? What do you think, top floor and work down, or basement and work up?”

What next? Darlene wondered. As it is I can just manage to stand up and hobble around. Anything more and he’ll have to carry me.

At her side Joe asked, “Before we go exploring, are you thirsty? Want a drink of water?”

“No sir, I’m fi…mmmpph.” The gag was completely unexpected. Joe quickly spun her around, pinning her against the wall with the weight of his body. Some kind of soft material filled her mouth. It was attached to a wide leather piece that completely covered her lower face. Joe pulled the straps tight and buckled them behind her head. Another set of straps went over her head, making it impossible to slip off.

Joe backed up and turned her around to inspect his handiwork. Darlene stared at him over the top of the gag. “That should do nicely.” He said, tugging at one corner. “I think we’ll start in the basement. Who knows what’s been left there for years and years. Unless you have a suggestion?”

“Bhoom wrrr” was all she could manage. She gave up after the second word. There was no way she could make herself understood.

Joe put his hands on her hips and pulled her close to him. “Just so you know, Darlene.” His expression and tone changed from playful to serious. He stroked her cheek with one hand. “I’m well aware you do this for me. I’ll never take it for granted.”

She closed her eyes and laid her head against his shoulder. The right words at the perfect time, she thought.

By Request

It wasn’t easy to get down into the basement. There was no elevator, which left her no alternative but to struggle down the stairs. Joe didn’t remove the leg chains, and with the gag firmly in place she couldn’t ask. That meant she had to take one step at a time while he held on to her arm. More than once she stumbled and would have fallen without his help. After about the third step Joe simply lifted her up over his shoulder and carried her down the rest of the stairs. It wasn’t the most dignified way to travel but it was easier than her attempting to negotiate the steps.

The pair walked along the main corridor, looking in doors at random. So far they had found empty storerooms and an old furnace. “Looks like this was a staff area,” Joe commented when they came into a larger, open room. Darlene nodded in agreement, which was all she could contribute to the conversation.

Eventually they came to a junction of several corridors. Bars restricted access to both the branches off the hallway they had just explored. The gates of both stood ajar. “I think we’ve found the interesting parts. These must be cell blocks. The basement was reserved for the worst of the worst. Hmm, which way?” Darlene waited while he looked in both possible directions. Joe had made sure she couldn’t offer a suggestion of her own.

“Let’s go that way,” he said, pointing to the left. “All the doors and security gates are supposed to be unlocked, according to what Cal told me. But just in case,” he held up a ring of keys, “I brought along the keys to the kingdom. I’m told these open everything inside the walls.”

Ever the gentleman, Joe held open the gate and motioned for Darlene to go through first. The bars were the real thing, steel and at least an inch thick. Joe followed behind her, closing the gate. When she looked back she could see it wasn’t locked, only held closed by its weight. Joe caught her worried glance. “These don’t lock on their own. You have to use one of these special keys to open or close cell doors and access gates.”

Darlene nodded to show she understood. The place was scary enough already, she didn’t want to worry about them being accidentally trapped inside too.

The corridor beyond abruptly turned, so she wasn’t able to see very far ahead. They had to walk around the corner before the long row of cell doors became visible. Unlike the cell blocks where the filming had taken place, these cells were isolated, completely enclosed, with solid doors securing them.

“So this is what they call Solitary,” Joe explained as he stopped to pull open the heavy door of one of the cells. “Doesn’t look like much, but I guess that’s the point.” Darlene stood in the doorway, looking at the small empty cell.

“Go ahead,” Joe said, “take a look inside. You said you’d take solitary confinement over Gilligan’s Island.”

Darlene, seeing the smirk on his face, was beginning to regret her offhand joke. She took a hesitant step into the room. Unsure what to do next she looked over her shoulder at Joe.

“Go ahead and sit down.” He pointed to the raised concrete platform along the far wall. Normally it would hold the prisoner’s bedding. Carefully she crossed the narrow path from the door and sat down, as he had instructed her. It was a relief to get off her feet for a few minutes. Her legs tired quickly from the shortened stride forced on her by the chain between her ankles.

Joe sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “I thought you might like to rest for a minute.” Unable to speak, all she could do was nod in agreement. “You did well attempting to walk down the stairs. I didn’t realize it would be so difficult for you.”

Darlene nodded again. I wish he’d take this gag off, she thought.

Joe abruptly stood up. She started to rise also but a hand on her shoulder held her down. “You stay right there.” She watched silently as he went to the doorway. “Imagine what it must have been like, dragged down here and locked away for who knows how long. What went through their minds when they saw that door close?” He crossed into the hallway. “Like this.” And with that remark he slammed shut the door.

Darlene tried to shout as she stood up, to tell him not to leave her inside. All she managed was a muffled sound as she attempted to rush to the door, hampered by her restraints. Before she reached the cell entrance she heard the locking bar drawn across the door from the outside. When she hit the door it felt as solid as the walls around her.

She jerked at the handcuffs on her wrists, trying in vain to pound on the door. With the covers over her hands she couldn’t even beat on the door with her fists. Frustrated, she backed up and looked around, trying to decide what to do next. Sooner or later Joe would open the door, she was sure of that. But how long was an open question. It could be minutes, hours, or he might leave her there all night.

Without a clever escape plan she sat back down, resigned to a long, anxious wait. Staring at the plain bare walls she began to understand why solitary confinement was used as a punishment. There simply wasn’t anything to do. Being gagged and shackled didn’t help either.

Restless, she stood up and paced back and forth. For once the ankle chains weren’t limiting, since the small dimensions of the cell didn’t allow for much pacing anyway. Three short steps, turn, and three steps the other direction. Darlene tired of it quickly and sat down again, determined to prove to Joe she could wait him out.

Best Laid Plans

For Darlene time slowed to a crawl. She sat in the cell, straining to hear any sound that would indicate Joe had come back. She wanted to call out to him, beg him to open the door and let her go, but he had taken away her power of speech with the gag. Normally she enjoyed the feelings of helplessness, of being vulnerable and dependent on him. This time he had pushed her to a new level. She was actually beginning to worry that he might not come back for her.

Fear of being trapped mingled with anger at Joe for leaving her alone. Where was he? How long have I been in here? Did something happen to him? A hundred different disasters ran through her head. She was so preoccupied with feeling sorry for herself that the sound from the door startled her.

She jumped up and tried to hurry forward, sure he was opening the door at last. When she saw the narrow rectangle of light from the hallway outside she realized it was only the observation panel high up in the door. If she stood on tiptoe she could just see out.

“Hi! Doing okay? I haven’t forgotten you, just checking the other rooms in this block. They’re all the same. Dreary place, isn’t it?” Being taller he didn’t have a problem looking in.

“Mmpph,” she answered. It was supposed to be “let me out” but even Darlene knew he couldn’t understand what she said.

“Y’know, that gag really makes it hard to communicate. Would you like me to take it off?”

“Mppsh. Mppsh.” Darlene nodded her head violently, trying to shout “yes, yes!” She’d do anything to get the thing out of her mouth and off her head. She heard him start to release the locking bar on the outside of the door.

At that moment there was the sound of breaking glass and loud laughter. Darlene froze. There isn’t supposed to be anyone else here. What was that?

Joe reacted the same way. “What the…” he muttered as he looked away from the door panel. There were more shouts, though she couldn’t make out the words. “Stay here, I’ll check it out.” The single overhead light in her cell suddenly went out. “That was me, I turned it off. Stand against the wall so no one can see you from the door.” Before she could try to answer, his face disappeared.

At least he had left the panel open so she could hear what was happening. Without it she would be in total darkness. She flattened her back against the wall next to the door, trying to hide as best she could. If someone glanced in they probably wouldn’t notice her.

There was another crash of broken glass, more loud laughter, and she thought she heard Joe yelling. Then abruptly there was silence, followed by the definite sound of several people running on the concrete floor. Darlene closed her eyes in a silent prayer of thanks. Maybe it was some kids, and Joe ran them off.

It must have been a minute or more before she remembered to breathe again. No more sounds came through the open observation window in the door. Where was Joe? He should have come back for her. She kept her back against the wall but leaned her head forward, trying to see something through the slot in the door.

All she could see from that angle was a small patch of the ceiling. Even though he had told her to stay hidden she decided to risk a peek into the corridor. As quietly as possible, even holding her feet apart so the ankle chain wouldn’t rattle or drag on the floor, she inched her way back to the closed door. Once more she waited, listening for any hint of what was happening outside her cell.

The silence was not reassuring. Joe’s boots should have made plenty of noise on the concrete floor. Unable to see anything but the ceiling she decided to try a different angle. Standing close to the door she rose up on tiptoe, hoping to see further down the hall. She barely cleared the lower edge of the open panel but was rewarded with a better view. Except that better view revealed nothing new. In either direction the corridor was empty.

Darlene lost her balance and leaned forward as she dropped back onto her feet. She fell onto the steel door but was able to keep her balance by placing her covered hands against it. When she stepped back she was surprised to see a thin crack of light in the doorway. Curious, she leaned against the door with her shoulder, pushing against it. Though heavy it did slowly swing out into the hall. Joe must have unlocked it before he left. Looking around the edge of the open door she saw the locking bar wasn’t fastened down. Apparently Joe left it partially open when he went to investigate, so that when she jarred the door the locking bar slipped back just enough for the door to move.

No longer trapped in the solitary confinement cell she now had a choice. She could wait, or she could try to find Joe. Something had to have gone wrong because he hadn’t returned. If he were hurt, or maybe even unconscious, she had to help him.

And if I do find him how can I help? She asked herself, looking down at the chains locked on her wrists and ankles, and the tube shaped nylon covers over her hands. One problem at a time; figure out where he is first, and then decide what to do.

To her left was the entrance they had come in, and to the right the corridor went on around a bend to some unknown destination. Which way had Joe gone? She decided to retrace their path first, since she knew it led to the outside. The cell block gate was just around the corner. She remembered that Joe had left it unlocked when they came in.

Her bare feet wouldn’t make a sound but the chain on the leg shackles was a problem. It rattled as she walked, and if she kept her stride short it dragged on the concrete, almost as bad. The prudent course was to try to be as quiet as possible, at least until she found out what had happened. The last thing she wanted was to meet some stranger in her current condition.

Stealth being her only defense she had to walk awkwardly, holding her legs apart to keep the ankle chain taut and off the floor. Before going around the bend she creeped up against the wall and peeked first, trying to keep herself concealed. What she saw wasn’t promising.

No one was in sight so she risked walking up to the access gate to the cell block. The gate was still closed. Pushing against it with her bound hands confirmed it was locked. There was a key in the door lock, but unfortunately for her on the other side of the bars. More troubling were the brown glass shards of a broken beer bottle, scattered against one wall. They hadn’t been there when she and Joe had come by earlier.

Darlene stared at the key through the bars. As a security measure the area around the lock had close set bars, too narrow to get her hand through, even if she hadn’t been wearing the mitts. Further away from the lock the bars were spaced normally, so she could get her hands through if she strained against the waist chain. But the distance was too far; the key remained a tantalizing prize outside her reach. If her hands had been unencumbered, and her wrist free, she could have easily turned the key. Joe had done his work well; the gate stayed locked. Frustrated by her restraints Darlene had to admit defeat, though even if she could have reached the key it was doubtful she could have turned it to open the door. Encased in the covers her fingers were immobilized and all but useless.

Taking a step back she examined the now impassable barrier, trying to find some way through. She could see the pattern of the bars was spaced to keep a handcuffed inmate from reaching the lock on the other side. I shouldn’t be surprised, she thought, after all this is a prison. It’s supposed to work that way.

The obvious exit was now a dead end. Darlene had no choice but to try to get out of the cell block at the other end, wherever that was. With luck that gate, or whatever other security was in place, would be open and unlocked. If not, then she would have to wait for Joe, unless she could find something along the way that would get the waist chain off.

Turning around she went back through the cell block. Unlike the upstairs galleries all the cells she passed had the same solid steel door. A few were open, probably where Joe had looked inside. A quick look inside one doorway confirmed the rest of the cells were the same as the one she had been in.

The hallway had several sharp turns so she couldn’t see all the way to the end. At each corner she stopped and carefully peeked to make sure no one was ahead of her. While narrow and twisting the hallway wasn’t long. Even with her ankles hobbled it didn’t take much time for her to reach the other end. To her relief the gate was open.

Which Way

Darlene stood in the middle of the landing at the bottom of the stairs. Behind her was the open gate of the solitary confinement cell block. To her left were stairs going up, also secured with bars but with an open gate. To her right were several closed doors.

Knowing the stairs would be difficult to climb, the better choice would be the doors. None had an identifying sign except for a number. Should she try the doors, and risk getting lost, or should she try the stairs? Darlene walked over to the nearest door.

The immediate problem was the door knob. How does one open a door without using hands? She tried to grip the knob but she quickly determined she wasn’t strong enough to overcome the stiffness of the hand covers. When she tried to put a hand on either side she discovered the waist chain had enough slack so that she could place her bound hands close enough together to hold the knob between them. It wasn’t easy but she managed to open the door.

From what she could see this hallway hadn’t been used in some time. The lights in the ceiling were on but several were burnt out, leaving the corridor in a dimly lit gloom. Both sides were lined with office doors instead of cells, so this must have been some sort of administrative area. Darlene could see many of the doors were open but the offices were in darkness. Judging by the trash scattered on the floor, and the dust everywhere, no one had been in here for some time.

If the hallway paralleled the solitary cell block she could work her way back to where Joe should be. It looked to be safe; there were no sounds ahead of her. What decided her course of action were new noises behind her. Someone, more than one by the laughing, was in the solitary block she had just exited. Stairs were out of the question now; there was no way she could climb fast enough to avoid discovery. With a sense of urgency she closed the hallway door behind her and started to make her way toward the far end of the corridor.

Art Misdirection

Joe leaned back in his chair and watched Darlene wandering through the building. Even though the prison was shut down the basics were still maintained, and that included the surveillance system. Maybe she hadn’t noticed the cameras. Or maybe she ignored them, assuming they were turned off or disconnected. Either way he was able to track her every move as long as she stayed in range. And that shouldn’t be a problem since he had locked all the doors and access gates which led to areas he couldn’t see.

Once he’d made a deal with the producer Joe had lost no time in setting up his plan. After obtaining a map of the floor plan from one of the crew he’d checked out the basement and the camera room. It hadn’t taken long to mark where the cameras cut off, and then make the rounds to ensure there would be no way out except along his chosen path. While Darlene spent all afternoon with Corrine the art director, Joe had plenty of time to set up his little scenario. Recordings of people talking, the sound of a bottle breaking, and best of all finding a beer bottle next to the catering truck were the only props he needed for his special effects.

The digital recorder he had borrowed from the sound man, an old acquaintance from many location shoots. With his help it only took a few minutes to program it to play back the first segment, voices and the bottle breaking. That was the bottle he had already smashed outside in the courtyard.

While Darlene was safely tucked away in the solitary cell he had set up the digital recorder timer and scattered the pieces of the broken bottle in the hallway. When he came back to check on her he had loosened the locking bar so the slightest jolt would cause it to open. It had taken three tries before he had found a cell door that would open that way. His choice of room for Darlene to inspect had not been as random as she might have believed.

From then on everything had gone like clockwork. The sound recorder played back on cue, giving the impression of more than one person in the distance. The breaking bottle had been a little too loud but she hadn’t noticed. The last touch had been to leave the key in the cell block gate.

She would have been surprised to learn Joe had only been a few feet away, on the other side of the gate in a room off to the side, while she had tried to get her hand through the bars. Her attempt was impressive but he knew it would fail, having tried to reach it himself.

He fished out another potato chip from the bag and nibbled at it. On the monitor Darlene had stopped and was looking around. She was holding up very well. Joe knew she had to be scared, yet she wasn’t crying or slumped on the floor after giving up all hope. Of course she was in no danger but she didn’t know it. He had arranged her accessible area to make sure he could reach her quickly if anything did happen.

Still, she had to be feeling some anxiety. The picture he had drawn for her, that a group of some unknown number of teenagers had broken into the building and was wandering around, and that group was rowdy and quite possibly drunk, had to give her pause. Especially since Joe had not come back for her, with the implication something had happened. Considering she was chained hand and foot, all but helpless and wearing a very skimpy dress, any encounter with the gang would doubtless end in a very unpleasant experience for her.

The essence of any good scary horror movie is not so much what happens on camera, but what is left to the viewer’s imagination. It’s the hint of impending doom, the unseen danger lurking around the next corner just out of sight, that’s the art of the horror movie. He and Darlene had talked about where the art director’s responsibility lay, and he had tried to explain that the art direction, the backdrop and the incidental details the camera picked up, those were the tricks she had to learn. Joe laughed when on the monitor she carefully leaned around a corner once again, ever fearful of encountering someone, or some gang, she had yet to actually see.

After checking the camera number and matching it to his hastily drawn map he could tell she was getting close. A little further and she would make a full circle, back to the entrance to the solitary confinement cell block. This time she would find the gate open. He had one last little surprise in store for her.

Full Circle

When Darlene came around the last corner she realized she had arrived back at the entrance to the solitary cell block. The broken glass was still scattered against one wall, but this time the gate was open, and the key in the lock was gone. Was it Joe, looking for her? Or was it someone else, who might also be looking for her? She hesitated at the entrance, debating the risk, but decided to go into the cellblock again.

Joe was waiting for her. Hiding in one of the darkened cells he was able to see her coming using a small mirror close to the floor. As soon as she passed the open door of her original cell he hit the play button on the remote for the sound recorder. The now muted sounds of several men echoed along the hallway in front of her.

The moment Darlene heard the voices she stopped dead. One question was answered; it wasn’t Joe. She looked around, trying to figure out what to do. In a panic she turned and tried to hurry back the way she’d come, fighting against the short leg irons that held her back. She had just passed one of the cells when the cloth bag went over her head. An arm reached out and dragged her in.

Darlene would have screamed in shock except for the gag. She tried to fight back, but her hands were useless. When she attempted what would have been an ineffective kick he pulled her off balance, forcing her onto the cell bunk, face down. With his weight on top of her she couldn’t move.

“Still feel like Superman’s cousin?” The voice was all too familiar, Joe. “No panic, calm and collected, even now planning your escape? If you can get out of this one I’ll be convinced you were right.”

Darlene relaxed, relieved she was in no real danger. He must have engineered the whole scene, like something from a movie. Joe helped her sit up and pulled off the bag over her head. “Don’t worry, there’s no gang of drunken teenagers. It’s all sound effects.”

She glared at him. He was wise to leave the gag on because she had some choice words about his idea of fun. “You see what I mean, about off camera? You never saw the gang, but you were sure they existed. A few sounds, one broken bottle as a prop and you were convinced.” Joe tapped the side of his head. “It’s all in here. We see what isn’t there because our minds tell us differently.”

He reached behind Darlene’s head to release the gag. It was an immense relief when he removed it from her mouth. “I’m starting to hate that thing.” She held up her hands. “As for these tubes, Joe, I might as well be wearing one of those straitjackets. Combined with the cuffs my hands are all but useless. Very frustrating, but you knew that, didn’t you?”

Joe smiled and put an arm around her shoulder. “I had an idea they’d turn out to be much worse than expected at first glance. The waist cuffs give an illusion of some freedom, since your wrists aren’t bound together. Add in the mitts and it’s actually worse than hands behind your back.” He stood up. “About the only good point is they can be worn for hours and hours.” Before she could stand he was at the door.

“Let’s do a comparison test, solitary versus the padded cell. You’ve been to the mental hospital, now you can discover if prison is better or worse.” He slammed the heavy cell door.

Darlene rushed to the door. She had a bad feeling she was about to become one of the Graybar Hilton’s semi-permanent guests. When Joe opened the observation slit she pleaded with him to let her go. “Please, Joe! I don’t want to spend the night in here!”

The sound of the locking bar in action stopped her. “I doubt any of the inmates looked forward to their enforced visits. You have a good night. I’ll check on you tomorrow.” With those parting words he closed off Darlene’s only link to the outside world.

Epilogue

“Of the two I think I’d prefer the padded cell and straitjacket.” Darlene sat on the couch in the warden’s office. Joe was seated in the warden’s chair, behind a wooden desk. “In that solitary cell it felt like the walls were closing in after a while. At the mental hospital I was sure you’d be back before too long. Tonight I was really worried you were going to leave me in Solitary all weekend. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about this place that’s so depressing I was sure you had abandoned me.” Her stay in the cell had only lasted three hours. It felt like thirty.

Joe nodded. “I suppose that’s what made it effective as a punishment. Just think, thirty days without seeing another soul, locked in that tiny cell, and fed by a tray slid through the slot near the floor, never hearing a word spoken by anyone.”

“If the state decides to demolish this place, do you think there’s anything we can salvage from it? Do you know if any movies ever used this as a location?” Darlene had mixed feelings about coming back, but it might be good for business.

“None that I know of, other than exterior shots like the one we watched. When the prison was open for business it would have been far too dangerous to film inside the walls. From what I saw while looking around it’s been picked clean anyway, nothing left for us.”

Darlene stood and stretched, glad to be rid of her restraints. “I wouldn’t have missed today for anything, Joe, but you’ll understand if I found the special effects a bit too realistic for my taste.”

17.11.2021

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