the Case of the Kidnapped Heiress
Columbo, “No Time to Die,” Joanna Going, HtF Vidcaps
Chapter Six Cosette
“Miss Lisa Rivers can have her gag off,” said Madame patronisingly. “I’m sure she’s sensible enough not to attempt to scream or call for help.”
The big security woman took a corner of the sticking plaster between finger and thumb and with unexpected delicacy peeled the clinging stuff from Lisette’s mouth. Lisette licked her raw lips and worked her jaw. She took a deep breath.
“A little … thank you,” Lisa replied.
“Good. Now, tell me about yourself.”
“You- you’ve seen my cards and stuff,” Lisa began, casting a sidelong glance towards her handbag where it lay on the nearby table, “My company … Can I have a drink of water please? My throat is so dry!”
The security woman disappeared into an adjoining room and reappeared almost immediately with a carafe of water and a brace of glasses on a tray. Lisette held a full glass in both trembling hands and sipped gratefully.
“My company was secretly commissioned to act as bodyguard,” she continued after a moment, “To Cosette MacCronigal and her father …”
“Cosette Sonneur,” Madame corrected Lisa. “She keeps her mother’s name. Unintentionally, it threw us off the scent … That’s why we hired professional help.”
“The two men who kidnapped me?”
“Uh huh. They should have handed you over to us at the same time, when you blundered into their way. But they’re sticklers for the fine print. You were not on their list, on the contract, so they left you behind.” Madame shrugged. “It was awfully good of you to give us a second chance at holding you,” she added ironically. “How did you guess that we were using Toffs ‘n Wheels as a cover?”
Lisette shut her mouth obstinately. Madame laughed softly. “Well, it doesn’t matter. You may keep your little secret. The main thing is that we have you and will prevent you from further interference. It will be easy enough keeping two prisoners as much as keeping one, though I did consider dropping you off up-country where the lakes are virtually bottomless.”
Lisette shivered. Madame smiled again, this time with a predatory glint in her teeth. “But what would be the point? We want the ransom money. There may be more likelihood that it’s forked over if we have two hostages instead of one.’
“I’m glad that you’re not going to kill me,” Lisette replied, really meaning it.
“It remains an option … if you don’t behave.”
There was a palpable silence while Lisette digested the threat. She placed the glass carefully upon the tray where it lay on a small coffee table by the side of her chair.
“What do you intend to do with me?” she asked nervously.
“More or less what we have done to Mademoiselle Cosette Sonneur. Hilda here will take care of the necessary, ah, inconveniences, won’t you?’
“I will indeed, Madame,” rejoined the security guard, flexing her fingers and making them crack unpleasantly.
“But nothing too rough, mind. Not until they have to be transported tomorrow to the secure holding place. Their room has thick walls and doors, well locked and soundproof. Just bind her hands, and do her ankles later.”
Lisette was helped to her feet by security guard Hilda. She waited docilely while her wrists were tied together again behind her back with the broad strip of leather. The knot nested close to the inner side of one wrist, out of reach of her fingers.
“Mam’selle Rivers can have a light gag, sufficient to prevent her from talking with the other girl.”
The thick band of black silk that had been her blindfold was now pressed into her mouth and tied firmly in place, the knot behind one ear.
“Our conversation has now come to an end,” said Madame unnecessarily, running a finger lightly over the contours of the cloth tucked between Lisette’s teeth.
Madame picked up Lisette’s handbag and handed it to Hilda. “Keep this with the girl.”
“Yes, Madame,” grunted Hilda as she took the bag in one hand and gripped Lisa’s upper arm with the other hand.
“Thank you,” said Lisette through her gag.
Madame smiled, sending another flicker of apprehension through Lieette’s spine. “Don’t thank me. It would be incriminating if it was forgotten and left for someone to find.”
Lisette was steered to the door through which they had entered and was once again in the concrete lined corridor with Hilda, who set a rapid pace back the way they had come before turning off down another corridor branching off from the first. It was new, unknown, and bleak to Lisette’s eyes, for she had been blindfolded when last she and her guard traversed it.
Hilda stopped at a door and unclipped the bunch of keys that hung from her belt. In short order the door was unlocked and Lisette was shoved inside. She almost tripped and fell over a pile of cushions just beyond the threshold. In fact, the whole room was layered from wall to wall with rich cushions and Persian rugs, giving the narrow space an exotic Eastern flavour. Over by one wall, almost hidden among the cushions, lay the kidnapped girl. She appeared to be bound hand and foot, her arms behind her. The lower part of her face was hidden beneath a wide piece of white medical tape. Cosette Sonneur looked up at Lisette with bright feverish eyes made red from crying. She was obviously as terrified as she had been when they first met in the kidnap van.
Lisette was conducted to the opposite wall and pushed down onto the cushions at its base. Hilda tossed the handbag carelessly into a far corner then knelt beside Lisette and produced a strip of soft leather from her hip pocket, the same sort that bound the young woman’s hands, and proceeded to lash her ankles firmly together with it. The bonds passed around twice and were tied off with a single double knot.
Hilda straightened up and moved to the door. The security guard observed the two young women lingeringly – satisfying herself that they were securely bound, Lisette supposed - before exiting and closing the door. The key grated in the lock. Inside, the door merged with the wall just as in the first cell where Lisette was held, and was soon difficult to distinguish from the rest of the wall after she had looked away.
Lisette struggled upright and, with her back to the wall, turned her attention to Cosette.
“Hullo,” she said through her gag.
Cosette attempted to respond, but all the sound she could muster was a faint hum.
Lisette continued. “Hang on, I’ll see whether I can help you.” Her voice came muffled through the cloth that bound her mouth and her words were indistinct, but Cosette seemed to understand. The girl nodded and her eyes lit up with what must be the first glimmer of hope she had entertained since her abduction.
Lisette began to push herself over the cushions and carpets using her arms and legs alternately, but progress was slow. She changed her tactic, fell back onto her side and started rolling over and over through the cushions. They impeded her progress, but the room was small and she covered the distance more quickly, although it was not easy. The figure-hugging cat suit was a big help, for there was no loose clothing to become entangled in the cushions. At last she came up against the bound girl and pushed herself upright again. Lisette turned with her back towards Cosette and, checking every so often over her shoulder, found Cosette’s face, picked the tape loose at one corner, and slowly, painfully for Cosette, stripped the stuff from her mouth. When the tape finally came away, Cosette ejected a wad of cotton, a large handkerchief, from her mouth. Lisette’s heart went out to her. Little wonder the poor girl couldn’t say anything!
“Oh my god,” exclaimed Cosette, who was then unable to speak for half a minute as a fit of coughing swept over her. “I couldn’t move my lips at all!”
“Try to help me get this off,” Lisette asked through her own gag.
She lay down and wriggled until she was partly behind Cosette, where she pressed her face to the girl’s bound hands. Cosette searched until her fingers discovered the thick cloth bound between Liestte’s jaws, and with agonising slowness was able to pull the cloth out of her mouth and down over her chin.
“Thank you. At last I can speak clearly! … Let’s see whether I can get at the knot of your wrist bonds with my teeth while I’m down here.”
But the leather was tied too tightly and Lisette gave up after several attempts. She pushed herself upright again so that they were sitting back to back, but she had no more success at picking the knot with her fingers than she had done with her teeth.
“I’m sorry … I can’t manage it,” she said to the girl. “See whether you have better luck with my bonds.”
After several strained minutes, Cosette began to cry softly. “I can’t … I can’t … My fingers keep slipping on the knot.”
“That’s all right,” said Lisette in an attempt to console the girl. M- Maybe …”
“Wh- What?” asked Cosette, fighting back a sniffle.
“There may be another way.”
Lisette’s eyes were on her handbag in the far corner. Madame would have confiscated the little Derringer but she may have missed something else.
“Sit tight, try not to worry too much while I investigate,” she told Cosette with unintentional irony.
Lisette allowed herself to fall onto her side once more and began to roll across the room, negotiating the valleys and hillocks of the cushions and carpets, shrugging some of them aside with her shoulders, until she reached the handbag. She pushed herself upright - I’m getting quite good at this, she thought – found the bag’s clasp and began to rummage about inside it. Yes, her compact, lipstick, handkerchiefs and a spare scarf were still there, and her cards. Her mobile phone, the lock picks and the small pistol, however, were missing. Her fingers reached further, searching the lining at the base of the handbag. “I think it’s still there,” she exclaimed aloud.
“Wh- What?” asked the girl in puzzlement.
“A small blade that might help us out of this mess.”
Lisette had almost forgotten about her hidden resource. As her fingers picked the loose stitching open, she recalled her scepticism when the idea was first suggested by Oscar Holme, Sir Devereau’s personal assistant of the DORFIS organization, who had urged her to adopt the practice.
“Mam’selle Lisette Ruisseau,” he had said, using her full exotic soubriquet, “One of our best operatives makes good use of a simple narrow blade when she is in, ah, tight situations. In her case the blade was hidden inside a wide belt of soft leather, but you can exercise your own choice as to where to secrete it.”
“I can’t see how something like that could be of use,” Lisette had countered.
“All I can say,” replied Holme, “is that the lady in question was able to saw through her bonds with a very small serrated edge, and escape from her captors. It’s worth the precaution.”
The force of the argument led Lisette to accept the idea. Now her fingers held the thin, flat bendy metal, but she found that it was impossible to reach it to the leather snares around her wrists and keep a sufficiently strong grip on it to make the cutting motion. Once again, she rolled back across the room to Cosette who was watching her anxiously.
“I can’t do it on myself,’” Lisette explained, “It might be easier to get at your bonds. Let’s try anyway. We’ve nothing to lose.”
Once again Lisette arranged herself back to back against Cosette. She soon shifted into a side-on position, however, in order to see what she was doing. She was bound only at the wrists and had enough freedom of movement in her arms to angle them away from her body. The blade was inserted between Cosette’s bonds, the serrated edge turned upwards so that there was less chance of it slipping and cutting the girl’s wrists, and the sawing commenced. Lisette could only make small movements but it was a good blade, and in a surprisingly short time the leather was cut through and the bands fell from Cosette’s wrists. The girl brought her arms painfully around to the front and began to massage them weakly.
“Please can you do mine now?” Lisette asked aggrievedly. “They might come for us at any moment.”
This brought Cosette back to the real danger of their position and she turned and did a creditable job of cutting through Lisette’s bonds. Lisette then helped the girl sever the straps at her ankles before cutting those that imprisoned her own. She stood and stretched. He legs felt shaky but she did not fall. Cosette was not so fortunate. It took several attempts before she was able to stand. She was trembling, swaying, and still very frightened.
“We haven’t had time for introductions,” said Lisette, in a ploy to take the girl’s mind off their predicament, if only temporarily, to allow here to calm down. “My name’s Lisette, or Lisa; Ruisseau, or Rivers. I use different aliases in my business … I’m a private investigator. Originally I was hired to watch over you and your father, as a sort of bodyguard.”
“Daddy never told me about you,” replied the girl, wide-eyed.
“He probably did not wish to frighten you unduly … Anyway, there was a kidnap plan. I made the mistake of getting myself caught instead of preventing the abduction and so, when they snatched you, they already had me tied up in that van, as you know.”
“Yes. I- I wondered who you were then.”
“But we couldn’t talk because we were gagged … Later they dropped me off in Hyde Park – we were both blindfolded by then - and took you on … I suppose to this place. Is this where you have been the last forty-eight hours?”
“Y- Yes, I think so. I was moved in the van, on that horrible stretcher, only once. It’s been insupportable lying here alone in this little room all that time. There were a couple of meals, and a trip or two to a washroom, but …”
“But otherwise you’ve been lying here bound and gagged, frightened and thoroughly bored at the same time!”
“That’s about right.”
The girl gave a wan smile that Lisette thought in different circumstances would be winningly attractive. Cosette’s strained face, though, allowed her to produce only a grimace.
Lisette shook herself mentally and assumed a businesslike air. She looked about the room. Where on earth was the door? She walked over the cushions to her handbag, scooped it up, and returned to the wall. Ah, here it was.
“I’ll try this little saw as a lock pick,” she explained to Cosette.
If it doesn’t work, she said to herself, we’re sunk!
© Brian Sands 2005.