Claudia Schipp was preparing for another uneventful evening in her neat, two bedroom cottage in the comfortable suburb where she lived. She was in her mid thirties, fit with a slim, healthy figure. Her short neat brown hair edged an attractive, oval face and the dark framed glasses she habitually wore. She looked every inch the efficient librarian she was, though she was also a qualified accountant.
She had never married, though she had been engaged earlier in her life. This had come to nothing. Claudia was a sensible woman and not prepared to embark on any venture which she thought could well turn out badly. She had had affairs since but none of these had lasted and she had sadly begun to wonder if there would ever be anyone permanent in her life.
Until about six months ago.
There had been a completely unexpected home invasion of her household. A professional art thief had come to her house, bound and gagged Claudia and held her captive in her own bedroom. He'd made a huge mistake. Supplied with totally incorrect information, he thought he was in the home of Elias Bardon, a wealthy art dealer who lived two doors up from her cottage. When he finally took the gag out of her mouth, she explained this. And also the fact that the Bardons were interstate, and would have crated up and put into security storage their best pieces, as they always did when they travelled. She also threw in the neighbourhood rumour that Elias had fallen on hard times and been forced to sell many of his best items anyway.
When the intruder was at last convinced he had been hopelessly misinformed and there was no chance of him carrying out his mission the two sat on Claudia’s bed and talked. She was still bound but no longer gagged. It turned out they had much in common. It seemed they were both solitary people but also sensible and practical. Neither were prepared to compromise where personal feelings were concerned. They had talked at some length - and finally become lovers, there on her own bed. Very satisfactorily for both.
They had parted, both feeling the contact was worth continuing at least for a time.
But since then very little had happened. There had been an intimate phone call three days later which had lasted many happy minutes. And then a month later an anguished call from the visitor in which he said he had wanted to get in touch with her but had been suddenly posted overseas (this mysterious organisation of his that he had referred to during his visit to Claudia’s) and didn’t know when he’d be back. And he wouldn’t be able to get in touch. And after that nothing.
In the past five months Claudia had wondered about all that had happened. And if there would be any further contact at all. She felt the encounter should not end like this. Meanwhile summer came and went. It was now early autumn.
And so, this evening in her kitchen she washed up after the evening meal and pondered how she would spend another solitary evening. Reading or watching television.
And then the doorbell rang. Briefly and hesitantly. She walked up the passageway, switched on the porch light and opened the front door.
And there, the porch light above him illuminating him, stood her visitor, intruder, captor, lover of many months before. He looked the same, slim, athletic, narrow faced. Still looking about her own age. A faint sheepish smile on his face. He was even dressed the same. Cloth cap, zipped up jacket and dark trousers.
“Claudia,” he began, “Look, I’m sorry. Very sorry,” and then hesitatingly, “May I come in?”
She stared at him. In past weeks she had sometimes wondered what she would say if she ever saw him again. After all, it was nearly five months since she'd seen him. She'd had no means of getting in touch. It was up to him to contact her. And he’d taken his time about it.
Still, he’d sounded distraught and apologetic during their last phone call. And he sounded apologetic now. Perhaps, in justice, she should at least hear what he had to say. Admittedly, she was curious anyway.
Wordlessly, she stood aside, letting him in. And closed the door after him. She switched the porch light off.
He stood before her. He took off his cap and held it in his hands. She noticed he had thick, straight brown hair. Something like her own.
“Thank you,” he said, “And look, could we please go into your kitchen and talk? It’s more appropriate for what I have to say.”
Puzzled by this as well as surprised by his call, she nodded. Still wordlessly, she led the way down the passageway to the kitchen. Privately, she was pleased she had put everything away and tidied it after doing the washing up.
In the kitchen he stopped and stared out the window. “Perhaps it’d be better if you sat down,” he pointed to the one comfortable chair available. “And if you don’t mind, I’d like to sit too?” He drew up a kitchen stool. She nodded. They might as well be comfortable.
Claudia settled herself in the chair, “Well then,” she began, “I wondered if I’d ever see you again. It’s been months. You could’ve given me a call. Why didn’t you?”
“Claudia, I really am sorry,” he began. “It’s the people I work with. At short notice they sent me to the US. And told me not to contact anyone here.” He went on, "They’re demanding people and they’re not to be argued with.”
At their first meeting he had spoken of these mysterious people he worked for. She wondered who they were.
“And as soon as I got back I wanted to call you and then they sent me here.” She looked at him.
“It’s like this,” he glanced through the kitchen window, across the next backyard to the rear of the Bardon house, now dimly outlined against the darkened evening sky. “Tonight they’re making another raid on the Bardon Collection. Only this time they’ve done their homework one hundred percent accurately.” He smiled. During their first meeting he had complained strongly about being sent out very incompletely briefed.
“When I first came here Elias Bardon may have been going through a lean time but that was only temporary. At the time he was also doing some questionable overseas deals with various warlords and dictators which netted him many millions. Since then he’s more than recouped whatever he may have lost.”
The man went on. “You will have noticed through your window a big addition to the back of the Bardon household." Claudia nodded. She had seen it being built and wondered what it was. “That’s his own private art gallery. Unbreakable plate glass display cases. The latest state of the art electronic security and direct computerised warning systems to the nearest police station and two private security firms. His pieces are better protected than the Mona Lisa. But,” he went on “My people are going to remove four of them tonight.”
Claudia stared incredulously, “How will they do that?”
“Just as he’s got protection better than Fort Knox, we have the latest state of the art computerised security disabling equipment. Our device can knock out every one of his electronic systems and even render the elaborate lock on his front door harmless.” He smiled as he elaborated, “There’s one drawback. It’s only effective at a range of fifty metres and takes time to do its work.” He went on, “It could be used from a parked car in the street but that would very likely be noticed. It needs a concealed location that no-one would suspect.”
He got up and walked across the kitchen. “This table under the window would be perfect.”
Claudia spoke, “So, you’re going to use my kitchen table to neutralise Elias Bardon’s security. That makes me look like an accomplice, you know?”
Her caller knelt beside her chair. “Claudia, I’m sorry. But that’s what they’ve decided to do. But before anything is done your home is to be invaded and you’ll be bound, gagged and made completely helpless. So that afterwards, if need be, you can always truthfully say you were overpowered and made captive against your will. It’ll never look as if you’ve been in collusion with the intruders. I insisted on coming here first to at least explain what was going to happen.”
Claudia was staggered. “Weeks of no contact and when you finally do turn up you want to tie me up again. Same as you did when we first met.” She laughed, it all sounded so insanely farcical.
At that moment a single knock was heard at the front door.
The man stood up. “The operation’s already started. It’s out of our hands now.” He walked over to Claudia and raised her gently to her feet. “We can both go to the front door.” Taking her upper arm he carefully guided her to the passageway. “But I’d better let them in.”
Standing together, he opened the front door and they both stepped back.
Three women were standing on the darkened porch. All were wearing identical grey boiler suits and caps. They looked like contract workers except that their outfits had no insignia. All three wore soft black leather gloves and dark athletic shoes.
They came in. The woman in front, obviously in charge, was in her early forties, solid and well built. She had short straight hair which framed a square, determined face, though she looked as if she smiled a lot. The other two were both younger and slimmer. One carried a large canvas carrying bag that held a bulky, rectangular object. The other, a large backpack. Their leader had a small satchel over her shoulder.
“Good evening,” said the first, pleasantly. She turned to Claudia, “You’re our lady hostess for at least part of the evening, aren’t you? Your name’s Claudia, I believe. Well Claudia, we’ll be as easy as we can with you while we’re here.” She turned to the over two. "Take the gear to the kitchen and set it up. It’s at the back somewhere.”
The man spoke. “It’s at the end of the passageway. To the right. The table’s under the window.” The pair set off.
“And now Claudia,” said the boss lady, “comes the unfortunate but necessary business of tying you up and gagging your pretty mouth.” Claudia stiffened at this. Moments ago she had laughed at the thought of the male doing just that again but this clearly very efficient woman was quite a different matter.
“I can do that,” the man said quickly, “Just give me the sashes.”
The woman laughed. “I’ve no doubt you’d just love to do that.” Then to Claudia, “we’ll adjourn to your sleeping quarters for this, darling.” Claudia flinched. These people seemed surprisingly affectionate. “We simply don’t want you anywhere near the kitchen, dear. Then you can truthfully say you saw nothing of what we did there, or what we used.” And with that she and the man took her firmly by the arms, and led her to the bedroom.
Once inside Claudia was made stand by her bed. The woman dropped her satchel on it. Inside lengths of soft white rope were visible. “I’ll leave you to render the lady incapable, that is, tie her up.” She smiled faintly at the man. “I believe you’ve done it before.” And with that she thrust her hands into the capacious pockets of her boiler suit and began to wander around the room.
Working quickly the man crossed Claudia’s wrists behind her back, wound several turns of white rope around them and secured the binding with a reef knot. Next he lashed her arms to her sides with two more lengths and cinched them under the armpits.
The woman continued her aimless stroll, then came back and tested one of the bindings with a finger. “Could be a little tighter,” was the comment, “Still, no doubt it’ll serve the purpose.” Claudia, her arms now secure, winced.
Her hands again in her pockets the boss woman stopped in front of Claudia and spoke to her. “You’re a trained accountant, yet you work as a librarian. You know of course, you’d make more money from accountancy but then there’s more responsibility. But I assume you know that. And have your own reasons for doing it.” The bound woman stared. How does she know this?
She turned away and continued her aimless wanderings. “And then there’s your two broken engagements. We also assume you knew what you were doing there. And your romantic affairs. But really,” the woman now stood facing her, her hands pushed deeply into the pockets of the boiler suit, “Your whole existence has been very, very limited in recent years. Hasn’t it? Your haven’t been enjoying yourself as much as you could, or should. Have you?” Claudia was flabbergasted. These people must have an amazing research system to know this much about her.
“If you ever worked for us you’d have a much more exciting time, I assure you.” Claudia was speechless at this.
The man interrupted. “I’ve got her arms tied.”
The woman turned aside. “Oh, back to business are we? Well sit her down on the bed and tie her ankles and legs above the knees.” She continued her perambulations while the man did this.
Finally Claudia sat on her own bed, her arms and legs bound with the white rope. The man had made a careful job of it and she looked like a well wrapped package. The woman stopped in front of her, hands still in her pockets. “Very neatly done I must say. There’s only one thing that remains to be done.” She reached into the satchel and took out a red rubber ball gag, complete with a soft leather strap. “Something for those ruby lips.”
“Please, there’s no need for that,” began Claudia, “I’ll be quiet.” Even the man looked about to complain.
“Ah, but there is,” said the woman, forcing it gently but firmly into the protesting mouth. “Besides,” she smiled, “It can be easily removed if need be.” She did up the strap. “And now you can say you were helplessly bound and tightly gagged with complete honesty.”
She straightened up. There was a tap on the bedroom door. One of the two who had gone into the kitchen put her head in.
“We’re finished,” she said simply. “We set it up at once and were able to hack into his systems very easily and quickly. All of them were linked together and we knocked them over one after another. Even his state of the art front door protection. The house and display area are wide open.” She laughed, " A troop of boy scouts could walk in now and take what they wanted.”
"Well then,” said the woman, “everything is going nicely to plan. Time to get on with stage two.” She turned and faced Claudia and the man. “That means invading the Bardon household. Capturing and tying up Mrs Bardon and her live-in lady housekeeper, finding the four antique art pieces we've come for, wrapping them up and departing.”
She went on. “Finding them may take some time. They’re not readily identifiable and we’re not experts. We’ve got descriptive information, but the whole operation will probably take a couple of hours.”
“Elias Bardon himself won’t be there,” she concluded. “He’s been interstate. Due back from the airport about eleven o’clock tonight. We’ll be long gone by then. He’ll find his dear wife Celeste and their hired help tightly bound and very effectively gagged in the lounge.” She smiled, “What a welcome home. He can untie them and raise the alarm.”
She paused at the door. “We’ll see you people in a couple of hours. When we come back for the equipment. Have fun.”
The door closed. The man turned to Claudia and said, “The first thing we can do is remove this,” and unstrapped the ball gag. He asked if she wanted a drink of water and went to the bathroom when she nodded. Returning with a full tooth glass, he held it to her lips then wiped her mouth with a hand towel, also from the bathroom. She smiled her thanks.
He moved to loosen the knots securing her. Surprisingly she said, “Leave it.” No longer gagged, she sat on the bed, still bound hand and foot. “Just leave it for the moment.” She wriggled along a little. “Just sit here alongside me. We need to talk.” He sat down.
“And now,” she began, “How long is it since you contacted me? Nearly five months, isn’t it?”
He was pathetically apologetic. “I was within a day or two of getting in touch and overnight they sent me to the US. And told me not to call you or anybody here. And they’re not people to be crossed I can tell you.” He lowered his head, “They seem to have spent some of the time investigating Elias Bardon. And yourself.”
He added “I might say it was a rotten lonely time for me too, and when I got back I told them I was going to contact you at once, whether they liked it or not. And then they sent me here on this mission anyway. It was a chance to see you again quickly if nothing else.”
Thoughtfully, she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “This organisation of yours. It sounds pretty big.”
“It is. International rather than national.” He went on, “I’ve come up in it. No longer in actual field work. That’s why I’m here with you and those three specialist ladies are up there now binding and gagging Mrs Bardon and her housekeeper.”
Claudia changed the subject. “I’ve thought a lot about our meeting in the time you’ve been away.” She smiled, “And fantasised about it.”
He turned towards her and reached for her bonds. “Look. Let’s get you untied.”
She was firm. “I told you to leave that.” She looked at him, “You tied me up last time, as you did now, but later you untied me and we made love. And I've good memories of that.” One look at his face told her he did too. “But one of my greatest fantasies is being screwed while I’m securely bound and can’t do a thing about it.”
“And so,” she went on, “Since we have an hour or so while your friends are tying up Celeste and removing Elias’ goodies I suggest we do just that.”
“Erm, well...” he began.
She recalled he had shown some hesitancy in their past encounter and knew how to handle it. “Erm well nothing,” she said in a firm decisive voice, “untie my legs and ankles, and stand me up.” He did this. She slipped off her shoes. He bent down, retrieved both of these and placed them neatly, side by side under the bed. “Still the tidy one I see,” she said approvingly.
“Now unbuckle the leather belt of my skirt and undo the zip. It’s on the left.” He complied as ordered and, kneeling, lowered the knee length, woollen garment to the floor. She stepped out of it. “Remove my knickers while you’re down there.” This was done and she stepped out of them as well. He straightened up, holding both removed pieces of clothing in his hands. These were placed on top of the nearby chest of drawers and carefully smoothed.
“Always the neat one,” she smiled. “And now you can spread that hand towel you brought from the bathroom in the middle of the bed. Right where my bottom will be. And then," she ordered, “You can prepare yourself.” He laid out the towel as directed and then in one to two minutes had removed his footwear and had his trousers and underpants off. “Oh, we are in a hurry, aren’t we?,” she observed .
He put his pants on the dresser top, perhaps not as tidily as her skirt, but he was working quickly and his hands were not entirely steady.
The two faced each other, both naked from the waist down. The bottom of her blouse hung to her hips, her arms and wrists encased in a network of white rope bindings. She raised her face to his, closed her eyes and presented her lips. They indulged in their first kiss in many weeks.
Seconds later they drew back. “Nice,” was her comment, “A little training and you’ll kiss very well. And now to business.” She sat down on the bed, placed her posterior on the towel then swivelled around and stretched out. “You'll find lubricant and another folded hand towel in the bedside drawer.” She smiled, “Not that I’ll need any but perhaps a little on that love staff of yours that I can see straining at the lease there. A slow gentle entry is preferred, after all it’s been a long time and I want to savour it.”
He did this and then with one movement he mounted and gently entered her. She murmured, “Darling, oooh darling. It’s been, oh so long,” and closing her eyes, “You'll recall, deep, deep and slow at first. And,” she admonished, coming back to reality, “Remember, I call the shots.” By then he’d have done anything for her.
The next hour was pure bliss.
About ninety minutes later they both sat on the bed. He was fully clothed once more. Even to his footwear. She, quite unbound now, was wearing a white, soft, thick towelling bed jacket that went down to her thighs. With a tight sash belt around her waist. On her feet were a pair of ladies ankle height rubber rain boots. These had been chosen because they had warm lambswool linings and were easy to slip on. There was a faint chill and her toes were feeling it.
Claudia began, “I wonder how things are going up at the Bardon household? I take it they’ve got Celeste and the housekeeper secure by now and hopefully they’ve been able to find the four items they came for.”
The man spoke, “I’m simply hoping that nothing untoward has happened. Like Elias turning up an hour earlier than expected. There’d be the devil to pay then.”
She laughed. “Imagine him walking into the lounge just as they were pushing a gag between her thick lips.”
At that moment they heard the front door open and close, followed by footsteps down the passageway. There was a discreet tap on the bedroom door. It opened and the boiler-suited lady in charge looked in. She smiled at the couple seated on the bed.
“Mission successfully accomplished,” she said happily. “We found the four art pieces without difficulty, wrapped them and took them to our transport. Myself and one of the girls have come back to gather up our very-helpful equipment from the kitchen.”
“And Celeste Bardon and her housekeeper?,” inquired Claudia.
“Seated at each end of the household lounge. They’ll be the first thing Elias sees when he walks into his lounge room. Both tightly bound hand and foot and lashed to the wooden arm rest at each end. That’s to stop them wriggling around and perhaps untying each other ahead of schedule. And of course each firmly and securely gagged.” She laughed, "We left them mewing away like kittens.”
“Gagged?” inquired Claudia. She looked at the ropes and gag that had been used on her now neatly piled on the end of the bed. “Ball gagged like what you used on me?”
The woman shook her head. “In this case dampened wads of towelling, held in place with two pieces of sticking plaster across the lower part of the face, ball gags like that are manufactured and can perhaps be traced,” she explained. “Well then, the husband’ll be home in less than an hour and after that the area will be swarming with police. Probably a crime scene. Either tonight or most likely tomorrow there’ll be house to house questioning.” She looked at Claudia, “And what’ll be your story?”
“Story?” Claudia smiled, “What story? Regardless of what took place up at Number eighty-eight nothing was stolen here. I didn’t lose anything.” She smiled further, ”I probably had a quiet night reading a good book. I could tell them the title and author’s name if necessary. Quite truthfully, I saw or heard nothing of what happened at the Bardon’s.”
“Thank you,” said the woman, and to the man, “Much as you’d probably like to stay the night here, you can come away with us. I repeat the law will be everywhere later tonight and in the morning. It wouldn’t do for you to be in the vicinity, you’d very likely be recognised,” she turned to Claudia, “and your Mrs Bardon is going to be a public figure tomorrow.”
“Dear Celeste,” laughed Claudia, “How she’ll love being the centre of attention. In the morning I’ll go up and console her. Perhaps take a container of hot soup.” Seriously she added, “But she’ll talk about this for weeks. And certainly every detail of what the police are doing. Do you want to hear of that?”
“Yes. We always like to get feedback,” said the boiler suited woman. To the man, “You can collect any information and pass it on to headquarters.” He nodded his agreement.
“Time we were going,” said the boss lady, gathering up the ropes and ball gag from the bed and putting them in her satchel. The other boiler suit had just passed up the passageway, carrying the rectangular canvas carrying bag.
Smoothing her towelling bed jacket, Claudia walked her visitors to the front door and saw them off into the darkness. They went quietly and unobtrusively. Nobody switched on the porch light.