Continues from chapter 13
Next day Leslie sent Gwyneth out after lunch. Ostensibly by way of a penance or punishment for some unspecified misdemeanour, but actually for fun, to ride Zoltan in the forest dressed as a latter-day Lady Godiva, that is to say naked except for her long hair, Gwyneth’s naturally waist level mane being augmented for this purpose to near knee-length by a wig. They had been assured it was entirely private and devoid of Peeping Toms. Even so Gwyneth was not sure she much liked the idea of being out there on her own like that, though if she had complained she was sure Leslie would have retorted to the effect, “What’s like got to do with it.”
Unlike her mediaeval rôle model, Gwyneth rode normally, not side-saddle. However, to say that the saddle was normal was to stretch one’s imagination. Indeed, was anything at the castle ever quite normal? Zoltan’s finely tooled leather saddle had no stirrups. In the middle rose a large, heavily contoured, dildo on which Gwyneth had been threaded. Moreover, things were so organised that pressing on the seat acted as a pump to inflate and lengthen the dildo. A valve under the saddle and so inaccessible to the rider, bleeding air out so that ultimate size of the dildo could be roughly controlled, huge, huger, hugest, Gwyneth decided, with Leslie having favoured the latter setting.
Gwyneth pulled off the forest track into a grassy glade that lay to one side to give herself a rest and to let Zoltan graze. She wondered if, by grabbing hold of a tree branch, she could lift herself off the spike that impaled her. On reflection she decided that she had better not. Once out, she was not sure if she had the strength or the will power to re-seat herself and to return to the castle unplugged would bring down choruses of accusations of cheating.
‘In the mood Leslie’s in,’ Gwyneth thought, ‘she’s quite capable of sending me out for another ride with my ankles tied together under Zoltan’s belly so that I can’t lift off. And, anyway, it’s rather nice,’ she giggled, giving her crotch a rub and sending shivers of excitement through the whole of her body.
She was beginning to feel cold and was just thinking it was time to return to the castle and a hot bath when she heard a noise. Peering in the direction from which it was coming she caught a glimpse of an ancient tourist bus noisily zigzagging up the track below her.
‘That’s very odd,’ she thought. ‘Who would want to come up here? The driver can't be lost, can he?’ Well, he would have to find his own way; she was in no position to help.
Gwyneth moved a little deeper into the forest and positioned herself behind some small trees where she would be out of sight, she hoped, but still be able to keep an eye on the mysterious bus. The bus ground on up the hill, passed her, and continued in the direction that, as far as she knew lead only to the castle. Suddenly the sound stopped. Not just faded away, stopped. Abruptly.
‘This gets odder,’ Gwyneth thought. ‘What is the thing doing here in the first place and now where’s it gone to with all the din it was making? It must have stopped. I wonder if they are going to try to reverse. I wish they’d hurry up. I need to go that way and it’ll be dusk in a bit.’
She looked up at the sun and tried to estimate how much more light she had. She waited another ten minutes. She was shivering now. No longer from the pleasure of the thing in her bottom, which was rapidly ceasing to be fun, but from a combination of cold and fear. She had to get going. Gingerly, she picked up the reins and gave them a shake to get Zoltan going at the gentlest of walking paces. As much as possible she kept to the clearings, only with the greatest trepidation using the path when absolutely necessary. There the bus’s wheel tracks were plainly evident on the soft ground, but of the vehicle itself or its passengers there was no sound. In fact, the forest seemed so quiet Gwyneth felt she could have heard a single leaf if it fell from a tree.
Rounding a corner, the tracks disappeared and so, apparently without trace, had the bus. There was a patch of ground with scuff marks as if something big had been dragged over the track from one side to the other, then nothing beyond save the hoof marks that Gwyneth had created earlier that afternoon. The trees were too thick for the bus to have gone off sideways. In any case it would have broken down the plants and there was no sign at all of that. It had just vanished into thin air. This was altogether too weird. For the moment oblivious to the special saddle, Gwyneth clicked Zoltan into a canter and in near panic made a dash for the Castle.
A few minutes later a still frightened Gwyneth was banging on the Castle rear door with her riding crop and screaming to be let in. Charles, still wearing the latex maid’s outfit and working chains, opened the door and gave a stiff curtsey.
“Good evening, Miss Gwyneth,” he said, eyes averted from ‘Lady Godiva,’ “I trust that you have had a pleasant ride.”
“Oh, stop pratting about and help me off here,” Gwyneth shouted. “Something really weird and scary just happened that I don’t understand. I’m scared and I want to talk to you all about it in case it is important and affects us somehow. Don’t just stand there like a stupid maid, help me off then go and get Leslie and Amber!”
It was quite some time before Gwyneth had calmed down sufficiently to tell the others what she had seen and even longer before repeated prompting had extracted a coherent tale from her.
“Well, it’s too late to do anything now; it’s already pitch dark outside. What I suggest,” Leslie went on, “is we turn in now and get up early. We can then go and look if there is anything to see.”
Gwyneth started to protest that what she had told them was true and if they didn’t believe her… Leslie held up her hand.
“Of course, we believe that you saw something, though I’m inclined to think that it was a tour bus that had lost its way. But there really is nothing we can usefully do until morning. And if there are strangers about, I don’t feel inclined to go looking for them when it’s dark. And anyway, anywhere off the road and you could likely as not trip on a tree root or a rabbit hole or whatever and break something or fall down the cliff. No, whatever it is can well ‘til daylight. I’m off. Good night!”
“Sounds like an order,” said Charles, getting up to follow her. “Should be light by six-thirty. Why don’t we meet in the kitchen at six then take it from there?”
“Six,” squealed Amber who was only reluctantly prepared to admit the existence of such an early hour.”
“Come on night owl,” said Gwyneth dragging her friend to her feet. “Say can I sleep in your room tonight, I am a bit too scared by what happened to be by myself over in the stable block.”
“You mean sleep with me?” asked Amber giving a wriggle of eager anticipation.
However, each had passed the night, they were duly assembled in the kitchen at six. Charles, though for once not in his maid’s uniform, nevertheless prepared breakfast. Half an hour later found them feeling very brave standing in bright sun outside the main gate. It was going to be a warm day and Charles was already beginning to wish that he had stuck, a good choice of word, it occurred to him, to his maid’s attire. At least it afforded more ventilation than extra thick black latex knee-length ‘Mistress’ style dress with long sleeves with puffs at the shoulders, a very high polo neck and deep, deep bust cups he had chosen to wear. Not, he would have been the first to agree, the most appropriate attire for the planned expedition, but it had special associations for him of adventure, it having been the dress that had completely changed his life for him all those months ago. He had the distinct sensation that today was going to be the start of an adventure too. So much so that in dressing he had locked the two-way zip at neck and restrictive hem, then deliberately had left the keys in his room.
At Gwyneth’s insistence they first went to look at the road. Sure enough there was a set of tyre tracks, very clear in the dust, but here and there where the ground was softened by streamlets running down the hillside the imprint of large tyres was plain enough. That part of Gwyneth’s story was corroborated well enough. Charles stared at one particularly wide patch for some time. What was it about them that was odd? Suddenly he remembered the story of Pooh and Piglet tracking woozles in the snow. Leslie remembered the story.
“You mean when they went round and round the spinney and each time they went round there were more tracks?”
“Yes, that sort of thing, only here it’s the opposite way round. There is only one set of tracks. The bus, assuming that is what it was, didn’t come back or there would be bound to be overlapping set of tracks here, yet I’m pretty sure this path is a dead end. Let’s follow them up the hill and see where they get to.”
The four walked slowly up the road as it curved round to the left. The castle towered menacingly above them so that they felt rather less brave at every step. The further they went the more the trees seemed to close in on them. They had not been round this side before and, from the amount of grass growing through the road surface, very few others had done so in a long time. Every now and then they caught sight of a tyre track. Constrained by his dress, Charles by now was bringing up the rear, Amber having bounced almost out of sight while between them chattered Leslie and Gwyneth in an attempt to keep their flagging spirits up. It really was oppressive! Perhaps because he was going more slowly and on his own, Charles was paying more attention to the tracks. Gradually it dawned on him that he had not seen any of the tell-tale signs for several minutes.
“Hey!” he called. “Hang on a bit. I think we’ve gone too far. I’m going back.”
Not waiting for the others to catch up he turned and began to carefully retrace his steps. Several hundred metres back he again picked up the scent. Amber came running up and skidded to a halt on the dust road.
“Don’t do that,” Charles told her angrily. “You’re ruining what little track there is. Go and stand over there in the grass.”
“Yes, Miss Sherlock Holmes,” she angrily retorted.
“Sorry, it’s just that the tracks are so faint there are some here but I sure that they don’t go on much further. And we know that the bus didn’t go back and it's not here.”
Charles scrutinised the road again. He would have very much like to get down on his knees for a better look, but the thought of the almost certain ruin of his latex stockings and the even more certain ribaldry from Amber at his attempts to get down, even more to get up again in that tight skirt, stopped him. Then, with the sun catching the road at just the right angle he spotted a patch with marks of a different kind. Long overlapping arcs that stretched across the width of the road. Leslie and Gwyneth arrived as he was looking at them.
“I think,” he said slowly, “I think someone had deliberately tried to obliterate the tracks here by sweeping them with a besom.”
“Or a branch of a tree,” shouted Amber holding up a branch, partly devoid of leaves, that she had found tossed in the grass.
“Oh well done,” said Charles, going across to look at the find and pat her on the back.
“Forgiven?” she asked with a little pout.
“Forgiven!” said Charles, giving her a little hug.
Leslie was poking at the undergrowth and at the vegetation the festooned the cliff beneath the castle. Quite what she expected to find she could not have said. Certainly, it was not thick enough to hide a bus, but it must have gone somewhere, it couldn’t just vanish into thin air. Leslie’s stick hit something with a hollow wooden, clonk. She gave a couple of extra pokes with the same effect.
“Over here, everybody,” she called.
Even before they had arrived, she had pulled the curtain of vines and creepers aside and, there behind, was a pair of wooden doors. Hidden, not only by the general foliage of the cliff, but with extra camouflage netting and plants attached to them. Obviously, they were meant to be hidden. But the clincher was the marks on the ground. The gavel had been scuffed in arcs by opening the doors and, in the middle; plain to see, ran a set of tyre tracks. That was where Gwyneth’s bus had gone! Why!
There was a keyhole in one door, but no handle. Leslie tried to open the door by pulling on it with her fingernails, but it did not budge. Probably locked, she thought. She searched her head for a hairpin. After a minute's probing there was a satisfying click from the lock. This time, with the others risking their nails too, they pulled the door swung open revealing a gaping black hole opened up in front of them with tyre track going on in beyond the short distance that they could see. Leslie began to wonder about the wisdom of what she had done. Too late now.
“I think,” said Charles who was also having the gravest of doubts, “I think that we should quietly close and lock the door again and think about what has happened. And anyway, its pitch black in there, at very least we need a torch. There could be hidden traps, too, like in the tunnel the other day.”
No one disagreed.
It seemed like a long trek back to the castle. No one spoke, tied up as they were in thoughts about the odd event upon which they had stumbled. Entering the courtyard, Amber held back surreptitiously slipping the bolts in the gate; she felt safer that way. They had been out longer than they realised. A bite of lunch and a glass of the robust local wine helped to settle nerves so by two o’clock the expedition was ready to be off again. Charles had fetched the torches that normally sat at the top of the dungeon stairs and, together with his trusty length of rope was distributing them amongst the others, now waiting in the hall after having gone to their rooms to change into trainers. Charles was still dressed as earlier.
“Don’t you have any other shoes, Charlotte?” Leslie asked. “Those stilettos don’t really go with speleology.”
“No, you know I deliberately don’t go in for, ‘sensible shoes.’
“What size do you take?” asked Gwyneth.
“44, 43 at a pinch, literally,” he added with a laugh. “Why?”
“I’ll fetch you a pair of my riding boots. There’s a pair of nines, that’s about 43, isn’t it? They’re the ones I wear with socks to keep warm when it’s wet or mucking out. They’re rubber so they’ll match your dress. Hang on.” And she was gone.
Shortly, Charles was shod in the boots. The flat heels seemed quite odd, making walking more difficult rather than less, an effect compounded by the effective shortening of the mobile part of his legs from knee down.
“Suppose I’ll get used to them,” Charles said in a mock grumble.
“Oh, come on,” Amber retorted. “With that dress and those boots all you need is a whip and you would be a real mistress.”
“Yes,” agreed Leslie, “and I know who one of her first clients would be. Now come on and stop teasing Charlotte. Let’s go and explore that tunnel or whatever it is.”
After the succession of warm sunny days that they had been having, the afternoon had turned distinctly chilly so that when the four again went out a mist was beginning to envelop the castle and the woods that surrounded it. It was suddenly not very nice any more. Amber was frightened by what they might find behind the door in the cliff. She sidled up to Charles and held his hand for comfort. It was not just Amber. The atmosphere and the anticipation of the unknown had got to all of them so they made their way in total silence to where they had earlier found the door. Charles was certain that the whole project was a big mistake. They should have left well alone. Their previous brush with organised crime had worked out more or less all right in the end, except for Leslie’s horrible injury. But why chance your luck again? Whatever was going on it was probably illegal and it would have been wiser to turn a blind eye. He even hoped that they would find the door open and the tunnel empty, but it was not to be. Everything seemed to be as they had left it three hours before.
“Well,” said Leslie after they had hovered in front of the door for a while. “Are we going in or shall we call the whole thing off and go gather daisies?”
Gwyneth took the plunge. She worked the end of a table knife she had thoughtfully brought and soon had the door ajar.
Nothing disturbed the silence that had descended around them with the mist. Even the normal continuous twittering of the birds in the forest was stilled.
Charles shone his torch through the gap. There seemed to be nothing inside save for the tracks left by the bus on the floor’s thin layer of dust. He squeezed through and the others followed. As far as they could tell, the passage seemed to be heading in the general direction of the castle up above them but that was all.
The tunnel went on ahead. Millennia ago, it had been carved out by an underground river burrowing through the limestone rocks. Later, it had been widened here and there and its bottom flattened to provide a secret access to the castle.
After a couple of hundred metres it suddenly opened out into a cave. Scanning the walls, the torch beams showed several shadowy patches; presumably entrances to further tunnels leading off the cave. But most of all, there standing in the middle, was an empty bus.
Gwyneth was the first to speak.
“That’s it,” she said, pointing at the bus. “But why is it here in the first place and where are the people that were in it?”
Ignoring the bus, Charles and Leslie started to explore the rest of the cave. What was really interesting was to the side. A camera mounted on a heavy tripod, what seemed like a laminating machine plus several other devices that were not immediately recognisable. On a bench they found what looked like some kind of printing-press and a pile of small books with maroon coloured covers. All were covered with a thin layer of dust, as if they had not been used recently.
But what was much more ominous was the opposite wall. There, above a low bench, were metal rings, at shoulder height, let at regular intervals into the wall behind.
“I think,” said Charles, “they must have been smuggling people in using forged passports and papers, though the kit is quite dusty as though it's not been used for a while.”
“That must be what they are up to,” said Leslie. “Smuggling illegal immigrants into the EU. More lucrative even than drugs and much safer. Fräulein Peitsche said that there were old stories about tunnels from the castle and smuggling across the border. They’re still at it or something. The forging stuff doesn’t look as if it’s been used recently; but what about the bench and the rings? Don’t much like the look of them. They’re quite shiny, rather than dusty like to stuff on the bench, as though they’ve been used recently.”
Then they heard the sound of voices coming from one of the tunnels.
Gwyneth, still near the entrance to the cave, turned and ran as fast she could down the tunnel by which they had come. Amber, who for once had held back behind the others - she would never admit it, but she was scared; these tunnels held too many nasty surprises for her liking - followed her but, being far less of an athlete, was soon out of breath and had to stop for breath. Leslie and Charles, now in the glare of a hand-held spot-light, froze in the middle.
There was a laugh from the passage in front of them. A light came on. Blocking the tunnel was Fräulein Peitsche, flanked on either side by men, one stouter than the other with more men behind hold in guns
Charles thought the men looked vaguely familiar. The stouter man took a step forward and looked at them, his face full of menace. He had a pronounced limp. That triggered Charles’s memory. He had seen them at the racecourse when they had unmasked the Sarah Turnbull scam.
“Quite right,” he hissed, “we used to traffic people but now we find that sex-slaves are so much more profitable.”
“Ms Weston, I assume you prefer to be called, Ms,” when on with a sneer, “and the loyal Dr. Graham, well, well, you do have a tiresome habit of getting in the way of my plans. First the late and not very lamented Sarah Turnbull, now this. When Fräulein Peitsche told me that you had booked the castle for a vacation I had hoped that you would have had the good sense to keep your noses out of things that were of no concern to you. With your combined intelligence, the two of you really ought to know better. However now, by the time Fräulein Peitsche and my boys have had their fun, you will know a lot more than you ever thought possible, though it will probably be too late to be useful. Take them to the dungeon, strip them completely and put them in a cage, a small one. Then go and find the others. We can amuse ourselves later.”
“Yes,” agreed the Fräulein. “There are several pieces of equipment that I have never seen tested to destruction. Of the victim, that is. There is no doubt that the instruments themselves are up to the job. It should be very interesting.
“If,” she went on, “the pathetic Sarah Thatcher had read her Machiavelli she would have known that people must either be pampered or crushed as they can achieve redress for small wrongs but not for fatal ones.”
She turned to stout man.
“Igor, I’d like to deal with these personally. Why don’t you see to the other things and I’ll join you by the bus in about an hour?”
“Right you are, Helga,” he agreed, and headed off, while Fräulein Peitsche made her way down to the dungeon.
Shortly a man returned with Amber who had been crouching in the shadows trying to hide.
“Be quiet,” ordered Fräulein Peitsche.
Amber spit at her.
“You bitch,” shrieked the kicking and struggling Amber.
Fräulein Peitsche hit her across the face with her whip, drawing blood.
“Put her in the toy-box,” she commanded.
Two of the hench-men grabbed the struggling Amber, picked her up and dumped her in the box, shutting the lid with a click and locking it.
“Now,” said Fräulein Peitsche, “before I was so rudely interrupted and, oh, your bimbo will not suffocate, there is enough air that can get into the box provided that she is very still.” She gave the box a slap with her whip so as to emphasise her point eliciting a whimper from the trapper Amber. “No, rather she will slowly starve to death, or perhaps die of thirst, as there is no way that the box can be opened from inside. If we had more time, we might immure her, brick her up in a wall somewhere. Oh, those Mediaevals, they thought of everything, didn’t they?” she added, feigning false modesty.
“First we will deal with Ms Weston. Hang her up-side-down then fasten her hands to the floor and pull her legs apart so that she nicely under tension,” Fräulein Peitsche emphasising the word, ‘nicely,’ knowing full-well that the position was anything but nice.
It was futile to struggle. Leslie bit her lip determined not to give her captors the pleasure of hearing her cry out while saving any reserve of energy in case some escape was possible later, though just now that didn’t seem at all likely.
Fräulein Peitsche walked across Leslie and addressed her or, rather, her knees that were now head-high as she hung.
“Sarah Turnbull’s crude attempts at surgery having been unsuccessful I shall propose a more subtle method.”
So saying, she poked an inflatable nozzle on the end of a hose-pipe into Leslie’s anus, pushing it deep inside, finally blowing it up so that it could not be expelled.
Leslie let out an involuntary squeal.
“Do you like it?” mocked Helga Peitsche. “Of course, you do. Does it not bring back memories?”
“But let me explain what is going to happen to you. I turn this tap on ever so slightly so that drip-by-drip you fill up. The pressure of the water on your lungs gets greater and greater making it hard-and-harder to draw breath so you slowly suffocate. Alternatively, in some cases, the pyloric valve gives way so that water and shit rushes from the colon to the stomach. They then drown in their own vomit. Neither is quick, but both are quite definitely fatal.”
Helga Peitsche was clearly in her sadistic element.
“Now let us deal with your friend.”
Charles was strapped to a chair, his penis and testicles hanging in front of him. Rubber dress in tatters on the floor along with his truss and corset.
Fräulein Peitsche walked over and stood in front of him.
“And now we come to Doctor Graham,” she said, flicking his penis with her whip. “Oh dear, what a predicament you have got yourself into, haven’t you? It all comes from meddling in things where you’re not welcome, you know. You won’t need a PhD to appreciate the device that I am going to use. So simple. It uses two things that never fail; gravity that always points down and ice that melts at room temperature, though just how fast, is a different matter.”
“You always wanted to be a girl, didn’t you? Well, your wish shall be granted. I shall be your fairy godmother and wave my magic wand. Sadly, you will not be able to enjoy the experience, if that is the right word, for very long. I am afraid that you will find the transformation rather painful. Perhaps you could write a scientific paper. We could arrange for its publication, posthumously, of course.”
Fräulein Peitsche said something to one of the men who disappeared into the gloom, returning in a few minutes with a contraption consisting of blocks of metal split horizontally into two equal pieces. One piece had legs and was obviously meant to stand on the ground; the other, much heavier piece slid up and down on two metal pegs that rose from the base.
“For obvious reason that will become obvious in a moment, I call this device, ‘The Nut-cracker.’ Let me demonstrate.”
The man handed her two walnuts that she placed in semi-circular depressions in the lower half of the device. She pulled on a string, releasing the top-piece that fell with a crash, smashing the nuts to smithereens.
With a crow-bar, the man levered up the top; this time placing blocks of ice, rather than the safety pin, to hold it up. He pushed it in front of Charles, placing Charles’s testicles in the grooves where the nuts had been, holding them in place with a stirrup that squashed into his penis.
“I like to have my slave girls’ nipples and clitoris pierced, it makes them so much more controllable and yours is such a big clitie isn’t it? Sadly, I don’t have time now for dealing with them. Ah well, life is full of its little compromises, don’t you agree?”
“However,” went on Fräulein Peitsche with a smear, “as you see, this is such a simple but reliable device, as the block of ice melts the top descends crushing your balls quite flat. Simple and, as I can assure you, you won’t be rescued, ultimately fatal.”
She turned on her heel.
“Thankfully I will not have to deal with either of you again,” was her parting shot as she switched off the lights of the dungeon.
The blackness was complete. Leslie could feel her bowels becoming more distended and lifting her lungs more difficult. Charles was conscious of a constant drip-drip as the ice melted. “How long before the block falls, he wondered.”
“Charlotte, are you there?” a faint voice came out of the black.
“Yes,” answered Charles.
“I’m so sorry I got you into this mess.”
“Shush, I’m as guilty as anybody; suppose it all comes from reading too many Sherlock Holms stories. Save your breath. Gwyneth must be somewhere in hiding or they would have brought her here, like Amber. Peitsche and Co. seem to be about to depart so I’m sure she’ll get here.”
‘Before it is too late.’ he could not help thinking, convinced that the dripping was faster than when it started.
Gwyneth had been crouched her hidey-hole near the tunnel mouth for what felt like an age. She was getting restless, though Zoltan seemed quite happy in the watery sun, nibbling at the grass.
Then she heard the bus coming. It was surely going too fast for the twisty rubble roadway.
As the bus was about to come past, Gwyneth and Zoltan burst out of hiding. The chestnut reared in front of it, causing the driver to brake and simultaneously swerve in the direction of the cliff edge. The passengers, some of whom were still struggling with seat-belts, were thrown forward by the sudden stop. For a moment the bus teetered on the edge then, very slowly, began to topple over it. With every extra degree of tilt more things slid forward adding to the overhanging weight and increasing the speed of toppling. Something had to give. The bus fell off the path and began to accelerate down the steep slope; part way down it hit a fir-tree, breaking its trunk in two, before it bouncing off to hit a second one. For a moment the rolling bus stopped but a moment later fuel on the hot engine or a spark of a stone set the buses fuel alight with a whoosh, engulfing it in flames. The tank had been full to the brim in anticipation of the long journey ahead; when finally, the flames died down there was almost nothing left of the bus or its occupants save for a few charred remains.
Gwyneth watched it happen as if in slow-motion. Then, for what seemed like an age, stood transfixed by what had happened.
She came out on her daze shaking her head not wanting to believe what she had just witnessed. What to do now?
She hadn't actually seen her friends in the bus. Perhaps they were still in the cave. She ought to go and look, though she didn't like to think of what she might find. Fastening Zoltan's reins to a tree, Gwyneth made her way to the tunnel entrance. The sweeping of the tyre marks was much more perfunctory this time; as if the bus had left in a hurry.
Pulling back the overgrowth the weak sun light caught on something metallic high up on the left wall. It was a switch. Gwyneth found a stick and poked it. Dim lights came on in the tunnel leading deep into the hillside under the castle. Gingerly, Gwyneth made her way down the tunnel. As she moved lights came on in front of her while the ones behind when out leaving just an inky blackness pierced only by the brighter patch of light from the entrance that got smaller at every stride.
‘Spooky,’ she thought, ‘suppose it saves power.’
Then the tunnel turned a little and even the reassuring bright dot was gone.
Gwyneth carried on.
“Having come this far, it’s silly to go back,” she said to herself, while wondering if whistling or something would help keep her flagging spirits up.
She turned another corner and came into the cave with the printing press. Gwyneth stopped; then heard a scream of pain followed by a faint moaning. It seemed to be coming from the passage opposite. If that was, indeed, her friends, they must be in real trouble.
Gwyneth ran over to the tunnel and rushed down it; again, the lights coming on for her as she went. The tunnel widened into another cave. What greeted her stopped her in her tracks. Amber was nowhere to be seen but in the middle was Leslie, stripped naked and suspended upside down from the ceiling, a rubber tube snaking into her bottom. To one side was Charles, also stripped, slumped in a sort of chair and surrounded by blood. For a moment Leslie opened her eyes and saw Gwyneth.
“Get me down,” she manages to croak.
Charles certainly was in need of the greatest attention but Gwyneth was sure that she would need help. And there was only Leslie.
Gingerly, she let Leslie down and lay her on the floor of the dungeon, water running out of her anus as she did so.
“That’s better,” gasped Leslie, “I can breathe again. Good job you didn’t wait much longer or I think I would have been a goner.”
“Charlotte doesn’t look at all good. And where is Amber?”
Leslie rolled over and pointed.
“Over there, in the toy box.”
Gwyneth went over to the box, flipped up the catches and lifted Amber out.
Once released from her box Amber seemed to have nothing damaged but her pride. The cuts to her face had stopped bleeding and really were not at all serious. Even Leslie, having been righted and having, to her great relief, emptied herself, easy now that gravity was pointing the right way, seemed not to be in too bad a shape. Charles, slumped in the chair clearly was, on the other hand, gravely injured.
Amber took one look at him and was violently sick.
They unfastened him and, between the three of them, carried the unconscious Charles up to his bedroom. Leslie found some ordinary sheets rather than the rubber ones that were usually on the bed, while Gwyneth went off in search of some strong pain-killers. The bleeding had stopped though he was clearly injured. They cleaned him and made him as comfortable as possible.
Charles opened his eyes.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “have you by any chance got Ray Brown’s number? I think I should finally make an arrangement to see him as soon as we get back.”
“For an arrangement or a, ‘rearrangement.’” Amber could not help thinking.
On her return, Charlotte continued as CEO of the Company, considerably expanding its activities through her visits and personal touch until 2006 when she had a stroke. Though recovering quite well from it, her right side was left very weak and she retired, returning to her house in the North East of England.
Charlotte handed over the reins to Wendy who had been de facto in charge during Charlotte’s convalescence and had, by this time, acquired sufficient ‘gravitas’ for Barry, now in his late eighties but still keeping a close eye on the Company he founded, to approve.
To everyone’s dismay, Leslie was diagnosed with cancer and, after a short illness, died of it in the autumn of 2006, after which the Gals could never be quite the same. Amber finally settled down to become a well-respected television producer, while Gwyneth went on to be a successful racehorse trainer.
Occasionally, the three remaining meet up to reminisce about old-times and wonder if there might, just might, still be adventures to come.