by Van © 2003
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OUR STORY CONCLUDES
APPROXIMATELY TWO MONTHS LATER
The Ceymoore Gallery
Lady Jane Ceymoore was furious (in a properly repressed, aristocratic manner, of course). She had been looking forward to this gala for weeks. It was a charity event to benefit... something. She couldn't remember what, but that was unimportant. What was important was that absolutely everyone who was anyone would be there (including the photographers from all the best papers and magazines). She had commissioned a gown from Andrew McQueen, just for the occasion. It was a strapless, body-hugging, black sheath of shirred lace silk, and it was exquisite, and in it she was exquisite; her long, straight; dark brown hair streaming down her back, her classic features perfectly made up; her smooth, flawless skin; her white shoulders, toned arms, and swan-like neck... exquisite for a woman in her fifties (exquisite for any woman)... and here she was in the back of her limousine, not on her way to the event-of-the-year, but on her way to her own gallery.
Fabiana had been most adamant. There was "a problem," and Lady Jane simply had to drop by the gallery on her way to the gala. She simply had to, and the problem was far too sensitive to discuss over the phone. Lady Jane didn't know what was making her more angry; that her Gallery Manager, a mere employee (and not even English!) was behaving in a manner tantamount to giving her orders; or the fact that "a problem" might spoil her chance of Being Seen as she made her Grand Entrance before the cameras. 'A problem!' indeed! Handling problems was what underlings were for! Miss Udenioso was in for a serious tongue lashing! (Unfortunately, the foreign little strumpet could not be dismissed and sent packing back to Milan. She not only knew where all the Gallery's artistic skeletons were buried (so to speak), but she'd been helping Lady Jane bury them for five years.)
The limousine arrived in front of the gallery, one of the several "Important Small Galleries" in this prime real estate between Sotheby's and Christie's. The chauffeur opened her door (of course), and Lady Jane stepped onto the curb. She adjusted the hang of her black silk shawl, noting in her reflection in the gallery's main display window how the smooth, dark gloss of the shawl offset the rich texture of the shirred lace gown. She also noted that the new display in the window was not finished, that the drapes were still drawn. If she'd been dragged down here to settle some trivial detail with the new show... there'd be hell to pay! "Wait here!" she called over her shoulder, and pressed the call button on the alarm panel. The red light mounted below the built-in camera blinked on, and the door lock clicked.
Beautiful as royalty (ideal royalty, not real royalty), fire in her eyes, Lady Jane threw open the door and entered the darkened gallery with a swish of hideously over-priced silk. The door closed behind her and locked with a series of very authoritative clicks.
Back out on the street, the driver climbed behind the wheel of the limousine... and drove away. (Lady Jane had failed to note that he was not one of her regular chauffeurs, such matters as the identities of low-ranking servants being beneath her concern.)
The THOMASINA CROWN Affair
| — EPILOGUE
With the exception of a row of overhead lights leading towards the offices in the back, the entire gallery was dark. Lady Jane's heels (Italian and custom made, of course) clicked on the polished black marble tiles. She hurried down the corridor and turned the corner. The door to the main office (her office) was ajar, with light showing within. Lady Jane nudged the door open, and beheld Fabiana Udenioso seated at her desk (her massive, antique, hideously expensive desk, of course). The Italian beauty's back was to the door and the desk light was the only illumination, but Lady Jane could see the impertinent hussy's signature brown curls above the top of the chair, of her chair.
"Well?" Lady Jane demanded. "What is so important it can't wait until tomorrow and that only I can handle?" Seconds passed with no answer. "And what are you doing in my chair?" Fabiana's head bobbed slightly, but she neither turned to face her employer nor spoke. Her cheeks flushed with repressed anger, Lady stepped forward, grabbed the top of the chair, and gave it a spin. "I'm speaking to you, you insolent little—"
Lady Jane stared in openmouthed amazement. Fabiana's brown eyes were wide with fear. Something had been stuffed in her mouth and strips of clear tape were keeping it there. She was wearing one of her expensive suits, but was decidedly disheveled. Her blouse and jacket were open, revealing the lacy, unlined bra restraining her large, full breasts. Her skirt was hiked up nearly to her lap, allowing a very unladylike peek of white panties; and she was bound! Her hands clutched the arms of Lady Jane's chair, and clear plastic cable ties at her wrists, forearms, and upper arms encircled her arms and the chair's. More ties, or some sort of clear plastic straps, encircled her waist and the chair, bound her splayed knees to the sides, and kept her stocking-clad feet back and off the floor.
"A robbery perhaps?"
Lady Jane started and turned. The voice was behind her, and it had the strange, alien quality of electronic synthesis. Lady Jane gasped again. A female figure had entered the office. She was all in black, a body-hugging catsuit of some stretchy material. Her head was completely hidden by a featureless, ovoid helmet, like a fencer's mask. The helmet's smooth glass or plastic surface glistened in the dim light with all the colors of the rainbow, like oil on dark water. Lady Jane took an involuntary step back, and caught herself when she stumbled against the desk.
"A robbery..." the figure continued, stepping forward to allow two more catsuited, helmeted companions to enter the office. "Very ironic. Don't you agree? Robbing a robber?"
"Wh-what do you want?" Lady Jane stammered. The three figures surrounded her. All moved with the casual grace of trained athletes. Black nylon harnesses festooned with pouches and pockets hugged their perfect female bodies and weapons of an unfamiliar design were holstered on their hips, strapped against their toned thighs and ready for action. They were wearing thin black gloves and stylish but very functional knee boots.
The central figure spoke again. "What do we want? Oh... world peace, democracy, free speech, religious tolerance, an end to hunger, a sustainable world economy in harmony with the environment... and justice... especially justice."
Lady Jane's eyes darted from featureless mask to featureless mask. She could see her own distorted reflection in their gleaming surfaces and her heart was hammering. She swallowed nervously, and tried to disguise her fear. "What are you going to—M'MMpfh!" The figures to either side had pounced. One had her in a tight hand-gag and was pinning her arms. The other was slipping plastic cuffs around her hands and binding her wrists together behind her back. Lady Jane struggled, but her exquisite figure was maintained by dance aerobics, pilates, and yoga; her captors' by the practice of martial arts. In seconds she found herself kneeling, twisting her bound wrists and mewing in distress as a foam ball was stuffed in her mouth and strips of clear tape were stretched and smoothed across her lips. Finally, bound and gagged; seated on the hard floor; her silk shawl a crumpled mass beneath; her long, silky brown hair tousled, with one errant strand across her pale, classically beautiful face; her breasts heaving against the tight décolletage of her strapless gown; she stared up at her faceless captors.
The catsuited women gazed down at her for several seconds, then the central figure gestured towards Fabiana, who had been watching the capture of her boss with wide-eyed alarm. "Strip the Italian," the central figure said, "and bind her properly." All three turned their backs to Lady Jane and the flanking figures pulled wicked looking knives from concealed sheathes and advanced on the writhing, mewing, very frightened Italian in question.
Lady Jane saw her chance (desperate as it may be). She kicked off her heels (silently), scrambled to her bare feet (making as little noise as possible) and edged towards the office door. The corridor lights were now out. Her captors' attention remained on Fabiana. Lady Jane eased through the door and pattered away into the dark gallery in a swish of shirred lace.
The central catsuited captor spun on her booted heels, faced the door, and watched Lady Jane's elegant, helpless figure disappear into the gloom of the corridor. "This is wicked fun," she observed. "It ought to be illegal. Oh... that's right... it is. Never mind. Deal with bella Fabiana," she purred, then sauntered after her "escaping" prey with slow, deliberate, graceful steps. "I'll deal with Her Ladyship."
The THOMASINA CROWN Affair
| — EPILOGUE
The Ceymoore Gallery's display area comprised a little more than seven thousand square feet. The walls were modular panels mounted on tracks in the ceiling and floor and could be reconfigured with relative ease. The current arrangement was a veritable maze of small chambers, designed to encourage patrons to wander at random. The ceiling lights were out, but regularly spaced night lights glowed redly.
Lady Jane hurried towards the front door... then paused as she passed one of the side galleries. Things had been... changed. The oils that had been on the walls hours before, the works of a new artist, were gone, and had been replaced with a dozen framed drawings that Lady Jane recognized instantly. They were priceless, preliminary sketches and character studies for several of Titian's works (mostly from his period at the court of Emperor Charles V), and they should have been packed away in the back of the gallery's secure storeroom, disguised as a shipment of reproductions... but here they were on open display! And the neatly printed sign beside the door read "STOLEN RENAISSANCE SKETCHES." On a small table under the sign was a small stack of compact discs (of all things).
Lady Jane started when one of her captors suddenly appeared out of the darkness of the corridor. "The CD-ROMs contain copies of your records for the last three years," the black-clad figure explained in her eerie, electronically altered voice. "Or should I say, your real records ...the ones in the ledgers kept in the secret safe in your office? ...the ones on the encrypted server in that room behind the wine cellar at your Devonshire estate?" Lady Jane's eyes darted from the faceless helmet of her captor, to the nearest Titian sketch, to the stack of discs, and back to her captor. "All of your legitimate purchases and consignments are neatly and carefully stacked in the storeroom," the figure continued, "and all the various oils, watercolors, prints, manuscripts, and such that are currently in your fencing network have replaced them on display." The figure picked up one of the CD's and held it before Lady Jane's frightened, horrified eyes. "Each CD contains copies of all your files. Each is a complete duplicate." She flung the shining disc into the gallery. It spun through the near darkness and disappeared through the far doorway. "The original files and ledgers, transfer documents, banking records, etc., are all still safely locked in your safe, awaiting inspection by the police; and we've already mailed copies of the CDs, with cover letters, of course, to every investigative reporter in the European Union. They should be arriving in their morning mails."
Lady Jane mewed through her gag in despair, turned, and pattered away towards the front door, as fast as her bare feet would take her. Her captor followed at a leisurely walk. Lady Jane reached the door and, with desperate haste, slammed her weight against the emergency release bar. Nothing happened. She moaned and stared through the glass. She could see people passing on the sidewalk, meters away, but knew they would never be able to see her in the total darkness of the gallery foyer, not through the thick, smoked, armored glass of the double doors.
"Silly cow," her captor said, emerging from the darkness. "Your front doors are already secured. A now very solid resin has been injected in all the locks and completely around the door jams. It's going to take a battering ram and considerable effort to open those doors now, I'm afraid. We'll be doing the same to your back door and loading dock as we leave."
Lady Jane backed against the wall and stared at her captor, then flinched when the helmeted invader reached out with one gloved hand and tucked the errant strand of her long, straight, brown hair behind her right ear. "We're going to your main display window," she announced. "Will you walk... or would you rather be dragged?"
The THOMASINA CROWN Affair
| — EPILOGUE
They arrived at the entrance to the window display space. Her captor's gloved hand clutching her hair in a tight ponytail, the miserable captive ducked through the small access hatch, and mewed in alarm through her gag. The opaque drapes were still closed across the expanse of glass facing the street, as she'd observed earlier; however, the selection of contemporary portraits that should have been on display were missing, and in their place were two identical stainless steel frames.
The frames were each in the shape of an "X," and were inclined a few degrees from the vertical. Rather than being simple beams or columns, they were a spider work of cross braced trusses, bars, and plates. The overall effect was a synthesis of the organic and industrial, and their proportions were... aesthetic. They were works of art in their own right; but were also highly functional engines of restraint. Lady Jane knew this, because Fabiana was spread-eagled against the far frame and was being bound in place by the other two black-clad invaders. The piteously whimpering Italian was now naked, of course, and was struggling against the steel clamps already snapped around her ankles and wrists, and against the thin, braided, steel cables her captors were now tightening across her straining limbs and torso.
Lady Jane took a step back, but the invaders' spokeswoman was close behind, blocking her escape. "We adapted the design from an Art Nouveau bridge across the Seine that was proposed, but never built. Pity... It would have been beautiful. Don't you agree?" Fabiana's binding continued, until the cables dimpled her flesh from wrists to shoulders to waist to thighs to ankles. She squirmed and writhed, the weight of her firm, tan, athletic body evenly carried by the cables and broad, heavy clamps. Her captors finished tightening the last cables, using small, noisy, ratcheting tools, then stood back... and their featureless helmets swiveled towards the remaining prisoner.
Lady Jane whimpered in despair as she was seized and stretched across the unoccupied frame. Clamps clicked and locked around her wrists and ankles, and she hung in her bonds, the hem of her long gown stretched nearly to her mid calves, to accommodate the splay of her lithe, strong, white legs.
"Your feet are filthy, Lady Jane," the spokeswoman exclaimed, standing before the straining aristocrat. "If we had the time, I'd have my companions take Ms. Udenioso down from her perch and lick them clean for you." She reached out and felt the hem of Lady Jane's gown. "I know you're horrified at the prospect of being stripped naked." Lady Jane's eyes popped wide and she screamed through her quite effective gag. The spokeswoman's helmet swiveled to gaze at Fabiana, who was panting and staring back, her big brown eyes wide above her clear tape-gag. "Such a fate might befall an Italian peasant... especially one as beautiful as Ms. Udenioso here..." Her helmet swiveled back to Lady Jane. "...but a Peeress of The Realm like yourself? Unthinkable!" Lady Jane whimpered again, her eyes begging. "I tell you what," her captor continued. "Whatever underwear you're wearing... you may keep."
With that, she ripped the hem of Lady Jane's gown, and continued ripping until the sheath parted and fell from the prisoner's body. Lady Jane Ceymoore was now as naked as her nude employee and fellow captive. "Too vain to allow bra or panty lines to disrupt the drape of your gown, I see," the spokeswoman said. "I imagine, at the moment... you're regretting that decision." She motioned to her companions, and they stepped forward to begin tightening cables around Lady Jane's exquisite, pale, dancer's body. In a little more than a minute they were done, and Lady Jane was as inescapably (and aesthetically) restrained as Fabiana.
"Allow me to explain the full nature of your predicament," the spokeswoman said as her companions exited the display space. She indicated a metal box plugged into a power socket. "That's a timer we've wired into the controls of your window drapes. They're now set to automatically open at, oh, around eight thirty tomorrow, at the height of the morning rush." Lady Jane and Fabiana mewed through their gags and struggled vigorously, to no avail. "We've also tipped several members of the paparazzi and tabloid press that 'something very interesting and newsworthy' will be happening on Cork Street tomorrow, near the Ceymoore Gallery." The spokeswoman pointed towards the ceiling, and the prisoners beheld a bank of small cameras unmistakably focused on their captive bodies. "And did I mention the simultaneous webcast?" Lady Jane stared up at the unblinking lenses in horror, and resumed her pointless, hopeless struggles. "Well... gotta go. We'll be sealing a plate of case hardened steel across this door, by the way," she added, patting the jam of the display space hatch, "using more of that resin we're using on all the outer doors. The bond is nearly as strong as a vacuum weld when properly applied. I imagine it will take the authorities quite some time to rescue you... so they can drag you off to gaol. Ciao bella. Good evening, Your Ladyship." The hatch closed, and the prisoners heard the sound of something heavy sliding across the flush panel... followed by silence.
The THOMASINA CROWN Affair
| — EPILOGUE
The back door of a small warehouse on the outskirts of London opened and three figures dressed in black and carrying gym bags entered. They made their way to a large, nondescript panel truck, opened its side door, and stepped inside. Before the door had completely closed, the truck's engine purred to life and the warehouse vehicle door began rolling up. As soon as it had opened sufficiently, the truck rolled through and turned onto the nearby road.
The back of the truck was luxurious, the walls padded with brown leather and the floor thickly carpeted. Three sides were lined with plush, sofa-like benches. The forward wall housed a bank of video/computer monitors above a trio of workstations fronted by leather "captain's chairs." Thomasina Crown sat at one station and Andrea McCandless at another. The newcomers shrugged out of black trench coats, stowed their bags, and flopped onto various of the benches. They were: Kimber Sontag, Helena Quinn, and Katherine Banning. All five present were identically dressed in black, spandex, turtleneck catsuits, boots, and gloves.
A chime sounded and a male voice echoed from a speaker. "The Gulfstream is finishing fueling as we speak, Ms. Crown. We should be at Biggin Hill within the hour, and airborne shortly thereafter."
Thomasina smiled, her eyes on Katherine. "Thank you, George," she said, and thumbed a switch. The central monitor flashed and the image of Sally Krippendorf filled the screen; or rather, her face, bare shoulders, and the top half of her pert breasts filled the screen. Thomasina swiveled to face the little blonde's image. "Report, Pip," she ordered.
"The backup servers for the webcast are online," Sally responded, "and the links to the primary are severed... except for the redundant, rerouted, encrypted, untraceable trigger, of course. Can I go to bed now? I'm bushed."
"Did you clean your cell?" Helena purred. "A spanking clean dungeon makes for a happy slave. A dirty dungeon, on the other hand, only makes for a slave spanking."
"As if you need an excuse," Sally groused. "And when do I get to go on an operation?" she demanded. "I'm sick of sitting in a dungeon, naked, chained to the wall by one ankle, with nothing to keep me company but a dozen flat-screens, a bank of Power Mac G-5's, and—"
"You have to graduate from training first, Pip," Kimber interrupted. "Now do as you're told! And don't forget to practice your Crane forms before lights out."
"I trip over the damn chain when I do Crane stuff," Sally muttered.
"Which is why you need practice," Kimber explained. "Find and maintain your center, Pip."
Sally sighed. "Yes, ma'am," she mumbled.
"Soon, Pip," Tommy said, smiling broadly. "I promise. You're doing very well."
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am," Sally responded, still despondent.
"See you soon," Andrea added. "Love you."
"Yeah, me too, Honey-bunny!" Sally said, her expression brightening. "Hurry!" she added, and severed the link. The screen flashed and resolved into a tumbling animation of the Crown International logo.
"Honey-bunny," Helena purred, smiling at Andrea. "Ain't that sweet."
Andrea swiveled her chair and glared at the Dark Priestess, a blush coloring her freckled cheeks. "Shut up!" she growled.
Thomasina smiled and shook a finger at Helena. "Be good!" she ordered, then swiveled to face Andrea, leaned close, and kissed the pouting pixie's coral lips. "Hang in there," she whispered. "You'll be with your Sally soon." She then swiveled to face Katherine, who was reclined on the far bench, her hands behind her head, and a very self-satisfied smile on her face. "And as for you, Huntress... congratulations on an outstanding first op. Full marks on planning, preparation, and execution. And I have every confidence you'll handle the follow-through with equal finesse."
"Thank you, ma'am," Katherine beamed.
"She's adequate," Helena said.
"Oh, she's more than adequate," Kimber responded. "In fact, she's good enough to eat."
Thomasina, Helena, Kimber, and Andrea began removing their gloves. Katherine's smile slowly faded. Something was up.
"I agree," Andrea purred. "Dibs on the dark meat!"
"That's okay," Helena said. "I like breast meat."
"Wh—?" Before Katherine could complete her question, Kimber, Helena, and Andrea pounced! She made a half-hearted defense, but in less than a minute Katherine found herself flat on her back in the center of the floor, her ankles and wrists captured in taut straps, her limbs splayed in a very business-like spread-eagle, and her attackers were slicing open her catsuit and peeling its remnants back over her booted feet and gloved hands to expose her tan, toned, exquisite body.
Thomasina left her chair, knelt on the floor, and cradled Katherine's head in her lap. Meanwhile, Andrea was licking the writhing captive's inner thighs, working her way towards her flushed and glistening sex. Helena was licking her left breast and gently teasing the taut nipple with her teeth. Kimber was suckling her right breast, and running her hand over the prisoner's flat, toned stomach. "First mission initiation," Thomasina explained, running her pale fingers through Katherine's long, gleaming, sun-streaked, brown hair. "It's a tradition."
Katherine pulled on her inescapable bonds and shivered with the unendurable pleasure of her friends and colleagues having their highly skilled way with her vulnerable, helpless body. "I hate being tied up," she whispered.
"Oh—change the record!" Thomasina said with a coy smile, leaned close, and kissed Katherine's lips. The kiss lasted for several seconds, then Thomasina pulled back. "We love you very much, Katherine," she purred. "I love you very much. You're strong and beautiful and it makes me proud that you—"
"Aaarrrh!" Katherine interrupted, biting her lower lip. (Andrea's tongue had found her clitoris and was doing its best to wrap completely around the flushed nubbin and tickle its very tip.) "C-can we please discuss this when various and sundry people who supposedly love me are not trying to drive me hopelessly insane??"
Andrea, Kimber, and Helena giggled (the resulting slobbery vibrations doing nothing to help Katherine's predicament), and Thomasina smiled warmly. "I love you," she whispered, and locked lips with her newest partner in crime.
The THOMASINA CROWN Affair
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