A Pair of Munchkins.
By Mad Dan
Part One: Chloë’s account.
Flashing blue lights everywhere, flaring on the rain-spattered windscreen. From the blurry gloom emerged a police Range Rover, an ambulance, and a crumpled red Vectra on the hard shoulder, a few yards behind a slightly damaged curtain-side artic. Paramedics helping a sheepish soggy suit into the ambulance. Skid marks curved diverging across the outer two lanes; he’d gone broadside on after clipping the wagon. Lucky to be alive. Other marks zig-zagged around the Vectra’s tracks, but there were no more damaged vehicles. At least some people had their wits about them. No wonder we’d crawled in this queue for 45 minutes while the police cleared the road. Teach him to text on the motorway, I thought. The closer you get to the Smoke, the less charitable you feel, and the more horns you hear. Wish I didn’t have to live there, even in the Heathrow conurbation with all its wooded open spaces and the Thames.
Relieved as I was to see the bloke only slightly hurt, I cursed him for making me late. Funny, isn’t it, how traffic accelerates once the rubberneckers have had their fill. I pulled past the cones, looking anxiously at the dashboard clock. 5.12. Damn! However fast I went now, the rush hour jams were only minutes away. Sure enough, just after Slough, the traffic began to back up again. The perfect end to a break in the West Country. I’d be on the Dulles flight early in the morning, and here was stress I didn’t need.
I came off the M 4 at Junction 5 and started picking my way through Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, then south towards the embanked reservoirs. To my right, the occasional glimpse of the M 25, Britain’s longest car park, confirmed my suspicions – it was chocker. That queue averages about two miles an hour some nights. Good call, Chloë girl. I’d beat the lemmings to Staines by at least half an hour.
A constant double stream of jets came off Two-Eight North and South, climbing into an apocalyptic sunset that illuminated the edge of the retreating storm. A fat BA 747-400, laden to within an inch of its airworthiness, clawed for height as it droned overhead. From dead astern, I saw the starboard wing drop, the rudder go right over to port and the elevators down. The great slug hung for a second on the ragged edge of a stall before the wing came back up. Phew! To think I worked on those things. Still, by the time she reached cruising altitude west of Scotland, getting lighter by the second, she’d be the graceful Speedbird of the TV ads. I guess being a hostie has its glamorous side… sometimes.
Down to the Crooked Billet, over the junction and into Staines. Right into our road, and along to our 1960s block on the left.
Never had a concrete hole in the ground looked so inviting. I swung Connie StreetKa into our bay, climbed stiffly out, grabbed my bag from the boot and locked up. Comfortable and nippy a motorway cruiser as Connie was, I felt drained by the 300-mile drive from Cornwall. Beyond the lift beckoned a relaxing shower, a meal and a spell of chilling out before laying things out for the morning.
Kiran should be back from Delhi by now. I got my phone out to let her know I was on the way up. No reply. I tried her mobile. Switched off. Now that was odd; Kiran was never more than a few inches from that thing. Oh, well, perhaps her flight had been delayed. Her car was there, but she rarely took it to work anyway. Whatever, I’d know soon enough.
The flats were quiet; everyone was still stuck in the traffic or sweating on trains stopped between stations, I expect. On the third floor, I knocked and let myself into our hall. Though it was dusk, the lights were off. From the lounge came flickering light and the sounds of the Fresh Prince. Funny, Kiran couldn’t stand that show, nor can I.
“Hi, Kiran, I’m back!” No reply. No smell of cooking or coffee, either. I went into the lounge. There in the middle of the rug, in front of the telly, sat Kiran, cross-legged, still in uniform blouse and skirt. Her arms were crossed behind her back, hands forming fists at her sides. New yoga position? She seemed to be wearing something like a yellow bathing cap. Her lustrous black hair cascaded down her back below the edge of it. I said, “Hello, Kiran,” and walked across to her. No reply, except a strange wriggling movement, reminiscent of the Twist. Her oddly smooth, small head turned towards me. Then I saw her face – or where it should have been! I leapt in shock, for what stared at me was straight out of a childhood nightmare. Kiran’s little nose, the nostrils stretched downwards into a vee shape, protruded from a smooth yellow skull, with a bulge of flesh on her neck around the base of it. Imagine Munch’s painting “The Scream” without eyes or mouth, the cranium tossing and shaking as she finally became aware of my presence. Instead of a scream, though, the figure emitted only a low, stifled hum. Thin cord across her tummy connected her wrists, and another piece secured her crossed ankles to it around navel level.
Recovering my composure, I rushed to her and started trying to release her. “Who did this, Kiran?” I asked, probing the smooth material that encased my flatmate’s head. Silly thing to say to someone very effectively gagged, of course. The stuff felt stretchy, with a slightly grippy texture. Then I noticed the smell. Rubber gloves! Somebody had cut the fingers off a pair of kitchen gloves, producing broad thin bands of latex. One, with the thumb still incongruously attached, covered her face from the base of her nose to below the chin, right down to the larynx. It was stretched up over her crown, as tight as it would go, pulling her jaws together.
The second glove formed a blinding mask, with a hole cut out for her nose. At the back, panels had been removed to leave three straps, the widest at the bottom where the skull was narrowest. Her mouth and chin were thus trapped under two layers of taut rubber. A slightly crinkly rectangular area was centred on her lips. I found the edge of the mask under her chin, and started to pull up. To my surprise, Kiran hummed and tossed her head, always towards her right.
Too late, I realised what she was trying to tell me. A woman’s voice, posh Parisian, came from the shadowy corner nearest the door. “I ’ave a gun, Chloë. Close your eyes and stand up. Don’t make a sound.” Was the intruder really armed? Well, someone had overpowered tough little Kiran and tied her up, so I had to assume the worst. I stood and stayed stumm.
“Ça y est, j’ai l’autre!” the intruder said aloud. Footsteps came along the hall. “Oh, oui, elle te ressemble bien!” said the newcomer. Her accent was coarser, and I couldn’t place it. Possibly not really French, perhaps Algerian or Asian. I began to suspect she would bear a superficial resemblance to Kiran, as she had just said my captor did to me. These were professional intruders – high-level criminal or secret service, with a thorough plan! What the hell did they want with us?
The first woman said, “I regret we must make you rather uncomfortable for a while, Miss Williams. You will not be harmed. Our quarrel is not with you – we need to use your apartment, that’s all. Now, I’m going to blindfold you.” A strip of black gaffer tape was applied across my eyes and rubbed in. I wasn’t wearing make-up, so it stuck tenaciously. I couldn’t see a thing. I tried to open my eyes, but succeeded only in raising the tip of my nose.
“Now, before we tie you up, I expect you need a little drink and a trip to the loo. Long journey, eh?” I nodded. A considerate captor, already! “Don’t take the tape off, and leave the door open”, said Mlle Bécébégé as she guided me to the toilet. “Remember, if you try anything, we still have Miss Sharma here.”
What could I do? I complied. Ablutions completed, I groped my way back out. A glass of orange juice was pressed to my lips. It tasted delicious, cool and smooth after the long hours in the car. I drank it all. “Got any more?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t think that would be a good idea,” she chuckled. “You’re going to be trussed up like that for several hours, and we wouldn’t want any little accidents, would we?” A very muffled groan came from where I supposed Kiran to be.
“Okay, now put your hands behind your back.” A slip-knotted loop of the silky, supple cord was snapped tight around my left wrist, and my right arm was pulled forward to receive the loop at the other end. I’d recognised it as parachute cord – not readily available except, of course, from military surplus and specialist sport suppliers. The whole thing was in tension; if I moved my right arm back, the cord across my midriff simply pulled my left wrist with it, and the loops tightened. Forget all those multiple cinched wraps of rope I’d seen in a video a kinky ex had once shown me. This single looped piece of cord did the job at least as well, and could be applied in a couple of seconds, even if the victim was struggling.
The Parisienne held me from behind, while before me her companion prepared for business. “Open wide!” A cold, squidgy mass of something, wrapped in what felt like kitchen paper towel, was pressed against my lips. “Nmmm!” I protested. A heel stood on my toes, and my momentary yell was stifled by the thing plopping into my mouth. The tissue immediately absorbed all saliva, drying my tongue and palate. The invading object adapted to all the contours inside my mouth, and had a curious “give” to it. I later discovered it was a balloon partially filled with water. It protruded between my teeth, holding my mouth open.
I heard the second girl say, “Keep still.” A wide rectangle of very sticky double-sided tape, the loose-woven cream stuff used for holding carpets, was draped over my lips and the gag, then my tormentress pinched my nose. My attempted sharp intake of breath had the desired effect; the tape sealed itself to the tissue and all around my lips. It grabbed fiercely on contact. Releasing my nose, the girl pressed my lips firmly together. I couldn’t pull them apart, and every time I tried there was a smarting sensation. The tape was both over and between my lips.
The inner glove strap came next, stretched and lowered over my head down to the neck, under my hair. I felt the woman bring up the middle portion at the front, stretching it between her hands before positioning it carefully over my lips. The rolled edge sat at the base of my nostrils, which filled with the pungent scent of rubber. It contracted, pulling my lips even more tightly together. The bottom edge, originally the part of the glove next to the fingers, was pulled and spread down to cup my chin. I could feel my lips being pulled down, the lower lip starting to roll under the upper. It all felt most uncomfortable, but more was to come. My breath now hissed as my nostrils were elongated like Kiran’s by the pull of the fabric tape and the tight rubber.
At the back, the strap was pulled up and spread across the top and back of my head. My teeth were forced together, trapping the hateful bladder inside. Water is incompressible, and the thing bulged terrifyingly towards the back of my throat. It stopped just short of asphyxiating me or triggering the gag reflex. I could feel the elasticity in it, the way it changed shape whenever I tried to move my tongue or jaw. My ears were covered, and the outside world already sounded fainter. “Don’t open your eyes!” hissed the accomplice, ripping away the tape blindfold.
Next came the mask. It was pulled squeakily down over the mouth strap, squeezing my forehead unbearably and tugging on my blond fringe. For a second or two it covered and flattened my nose, and a wave of panic rose as my breath was cut off. Finally my nose popped out through the breathing hole and I drew a great, shuddering breath. The expert busied herself tugging the rubber sheet this way and that, snuggling it about my nose and down around my throat just at the top of the larynx. Finally, it covered my face in a taut sheet, smooth except for the line of the rolled edge curving up across my cheeks under it. It felt as if my mouth had healed up and all the skin on my head had shrunk onto my skull, like a mummy in an Indiana Jones film. I could hear and even feel my pulse, little blobs of blood moving around in the flattened arteries. The rubber pushed my cheeks into my eye sockets, forcing my eyes closed. The darkness was absolute, and so was the sense of isolation. I wondered why these intruders had been so obsessively thorough. They clearly intended us to stay put and all but silent for quite some time, and to be completely unable to describe them.
I was pushed down to sit on the rug, back-to-back with Kiran, and the women finished tying us up. My trainer-clad feet were crossed and cinched with more cord, the end of which was brought up and secured to the one connecting my wrists. I was forced to sit tailor fashion. At least, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, I suffered less indignity than did Kiran, who still wore her short uniform skirt and blouse. Her shoes had been removed. No tapping on the floor, then!
Our fists were wrapped in gaffer tape, and our upper arms taped tightly together at the elbows and higher up. Bands of tape circled and united us above and below our boobs. Finally, a pair of tights was pulled right down over our heads, a leg each, to prevent us from rubbing the hood straps together and possibly removing them.
Wrapped thus into a single bundle, we were left there in the dark to listen to what little we could hear of our visitors’ activity. Faint snatches of muffled conversation from down the hall… “Et le vent?” Wind? What were they setting up? “Ça va, pas d’problème. La portée est trop courte.” Now they were on about a short range. It had to be a gun or a missile. They were assassins! Who could be the target? We strained to hear, but then they started lugging things into one of the bedrooms, and the sounds grew fainter. The rubber hoods impeded our directional hearing, but the hit women seemed to be busy in Kiran’s room, next to the lounge at the front of the block, facing the airport. If they planned to shoot down an aircraft, especially over the suburbs, the death toll might run into thousands.
About 6.45, the Parisienne came in, turned off the TV, and said, quietly, “We’re leaving now. Thanks for the loan of your apartment, ladies, and of your car, Kiran. We hope you’ll get it back undamaged. You must not try to leave this room, because it will be dangerous outside. Salut, main’nant!” Bit pleb, that last bit. She probably wasn’t as posh as she pretended, and possibly from nowhere near Paris, or even France.
The door closed, followed seconds later by the front door. We immediately threw ourselves into a frenzy of fruitless wriggling, straining and humming, punctuated with overheated pauses for hard-to-come-by breath. Sitting us on a fake sheepskin rug on a smooth tiled floor had been a clever stroke. The synchronised twisting movement that was all our bonds allowed us simply rotated the mat, and we got nowhere.
We absolutely had to get free, to try to prevent who knows what kind of catastrophe. The question was, how? I sat fuming and gasping in my rope, tape and rubber confinement, feeling Kiran’s torso heaving against my back, her smooth nylon-sheathed occiput sliding about mine.
We’d find a way out somehow…..