Lisette Rivers and the Bogus Robbery
Sally O’Neil, National Comics, 1974, p. 14, courtesy c3c Yahoo Group, colour changes by Brian Sands
It began with an observation by Rasputin Thermodux the First, otherwise known by his mistress Lisette Rivers née Ruisseau as “Grumpy Top Cat.” Lisa was reclining upon the bed reading the office memos from her laptop. Rasputin crouched upon the window ledge observing the pigeons that strutted before him, separated by the windowpane from either instant death or boring conversation depending upon his mood.
Lisette raised her head and looked enquiringly to the big Persian.
These were fighting words in Rasputin’s language as Lisa had come to recognize. “What is it, Grump Cat?”
Rasputin was gazing out the window, his tail straight and fur erect. Lisette put the laptop to one side, scrambled off the bed and went to investigate.
At first she did not see what had attracted the attention of her companion feline. Her apartment was on the top floor of a two-storey block, on a junction between two roads. The apartments and small shops were several feet lower on the opposite side of the street because the side where Lisette’s apartment block had been built followed a ridge. This meant that from her window Lisette could see “downwards” into some of the rooms opposite without herself being so easily seen from those apartments.
She thought at first that something in the street below had attracted Rasputin’s baleful interest. But the street was empty. She raised her eyes to the windows opposite and gasped.
Detail from the cover illustration forThe Menace of the Poison Pen, by Leslie Charteris, a Saint adventure, Super Detective Library, No. 11, The Book Palace, Super Detective Comic Library http://www.bookpalace.com/PicLibs/SDPL/INDEX.HTM
The window to her right looked in upon a small private office. In full view sat a young woman in a red dress and auburn hair. She was tied into a wooden chair, her arms behind her around the chair’s back, her waist lashed to the chair under multiple layers of rope. She was shaking her head to and fro in an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of a white cloth that had been bound tightly over her mouth. No sounds could be heard at that distance and with the windows of both Lisette’s flat and the office closed. Besides, the gag prevented any outcry. It looked far too tight for comfort. Behind the girl was a small chest or drawers with a built-in bookshelf on which stood a dial telephone of an earlier era. A book lay open on the floor. Papers lay scattered about the girl’s feet.
How long has it been since the robbery? Lisa wondered. It can’t have been long or Top Cat would have noticed sooner.
She was about to phone the police and rescue the girl when she heard a sound down in the street. Quickly she ran into her living room to the window that looked upon the adjoining courtyard. The robbery’s happening this very moment!
What Lisette saw in the street below became engraved in her mind. One man in a trench coat and hat was wrenching open the door to the driver’s seat. A second man also wearing a hat drawn low over his eyes and dressed in a dark suit was running behind his companion. In his left hand he carried a briefcase.
Detail from Princess, “Jane Bond – Secret Agent,” 9 September 1967, p. 18, art by Mike Hubbard, illustration art gallery: http://www.illustrationartgallery.com/acatalog/info_HubbardJB9_9_67_1.html
The driver leapt to his place. The man in the dark suit climbed just as quickly into the back seat. Before closing the door he looked up. His eyes glittered at Lisette – she thought afterwards that perhaps it was a trick of the light – and Lisa in her turn had an impression of a dark van Dyke beard. The car sped off. The man had seen her.
Lisette punched out the police emergency number as she ran across the road to the apartment building. Ignoring the lift she took the flights of stairs two at a time until she was on the floor of the girl’s flat. A door was open to one of the apartments. Lisette stepped through a small anteroom furnished with a coat rack and vanity mirror to the living room where she found herself face to face with the robbery victim. The girl was still shaking her head and trying ineffectually to get the gag off. She was hysterical, but the ropes held her struggles to a minimum.
“Don’t worry. You’re safe,” said Lisette urgently. “I’ll get you out of this. Don’t struggle. And please don’t cry.”
Solicitously she untied the wide cloth that was bound across the girl’s mouth. It was a chiffon scarf, too flimsy to muffle any cries for help. But when it came away Lisette found that a thick roll of silk dress material had been packed deeply into the victim’s mouth.
“Poor kid. Hold still,” Lisette muttered as she gently extracted the wadding.
The girl grimaced as the gag came out and attempted a “thank you” that ended in a fit of coughing.
“Don’t try to talk yet,” advised Lisa.
She went to a water cooler that stood in a corner and returned with a small wax cup. The girl drank the water down. Lisette made another trip to the spigot.
“Does that feel better?”
The girl nodded weakly.
“I’ll get you out of these ropes. The police should be here soon.”
“Sh- shouldn’t you leave everything as it is until they arrive?”
“Not in cases like this. In fact it’s a silly idea. You need to be freed as quickly as possible. We shan’t touch anything else.”
Lisette began to untie the girl’s wrist bonds. “I’ll be as gentle as I can. Hmm, the ropes are tight but they haven’t broken the skin.” It was a passing observation that Lisette was to remember later. “What’s your name?” she asked as a means of directing the girl’s attention from her discomfort.
“Pearl. Pearl Constance,” the girl replied.
“Well Miss Constance, you don’t seem any the worse for wear. Being tied up is frightening enough but you haven’t come to harm. Obviously their chief motive was to rob this place, and tying you up was a relatively humane means of putting you out of action. They might have knocked you out or chloroformed you, and that would have been worse. There. Now I’ll free your legs. Massage your arms if they’re feeling stiff. Ah, here are the police.”
An hour later Lisette was interviewed in her own apartment where she showed the two vantage points from which she had witnessed the tail end of the robbery.
“It’s an unusual case you’ve stumbled upon Miss Rivers,” said the woman Detective Sergeant. “The Constance girl can’t tell us much. She’s an office temp and has only been employed by that solicitor’s firm a few days. She says she did not get a good look at the safe because it was behind her. One of the men was busy gagging her when the other was rifling the safe. Both men were masked so she can’t give a very good description of them. Your description, on the other hand, may help identify at least one of them once it’s in the database.”
The police sergeant closed her notebook with a faint snap.
“Do you know what has been taken?”
“That’s the unusual thing. A preliminary search was made by one of the members of the legal firm, roused from his club. As far as he can make out, the robbers appear to have made off with some petty cash and a small laptop that can be opened only with a password. They’ll probably wipe the hard disc and sell it on the black market. There are pubs in the district where this happens far too often.”
“Can you let me know if you identify either of those men?” Lisette asked. “The quicker they’re found the better. They saw me, at least one of them did.”
Lisette handed the Detective Sergeant her card: L & C Associates (Corporate Crime Our Specialty).
“Oh yes. I know about your organisation,” said the DS. “Are you going to take up the case?”
“No. No I don’t think so. It will just be nice to know those men won’t be able to threaten me or anything.”
The Detective Sergeant rose to leave. “Is that- that a real cat?” she asked, pausing at the door and looking with interest at a large white Persian that had been sitting motionless on the spare armchair throughout the interview.
In that instant Rasputin Thermodux the First raised his head and gave a prodigious yawn.
“He pretends he’s stuffed sometimes,” said Lisette with a laugh. “Once he almost fooled me, the lazy fellow!”
“Fraff,” mewed Rasputin aggrievedly.
Next morning Lisette received an unexpected client. The man bowed with ponderous courtesy as Sophie Brush the administrative assistant ushered him in. “Mr Reginald Dewlap. He’s a solicitor Miss.”
Mr Dewlap took the chair that was offered and got down to business, speaking in a portentous manner that under the circumstances proved appropriate. “Miss Rivers, I represent the second partner in the firm Folde, Dewlap and Stappler Associates.” He handed a card across Lisette’s desk.
“Oh yes. Yours is the law firm that was robbed yesterday.”
“Quite. Quite. Miss Rivers, I wish to hire your services in a highly delicate matter connected with that robbery.”
To Lisa’s mild annoyance, the man repeated himself. “You understand that extreme discretion is requested?”
“Mr Dewlap, ours is a highly professional agency. Anything you say will be treated in the greatest confidence,” she replied with a slight frown.
“Thank you. Well, Miss Rivers, I have to tell you that during the robbery some extremely important documents were stolen that, if their contents were to become generally known, would spell the end of several persons’ careers, mine included.”
“Hmm. In legal matters my associate Chèrie Chalmers would be your best adviser, but unfortunately she’s away on another case and is not expected back in the office until next week. Tell me, is blackmail involved?”
Mr Dewlap bridled at the question. “I am not at liberty to say,” he replied haughtily. “Let us agree that the documents are very important and leave it at that.”
Lisette drummed on the desktop with her fingers and eyed the solicitor sternly. “Very well, considering you won’t take our agency into full confidence I shall offer a limited service in return. I shall carry out routine enquiries and deliver a report to you. If the report does not suit your requirements you may only pay the normal basic fee.”
“That- that will suit,” said Dewlap. A sly look came into his eyes.
Lisette settled back in her chair. “Do you have business competitors who might take the step of burgling your office?”
“Yes and no. Yes because when in court my firm’s representatives and those of others are often on opposing sides. But no, when a court case is resolved one way or the other we are usually the best of friends.”
“Well, there is one competitor, a security firm with offices not far from ours. They do not get involved in the same courts as ourselves, so I hardly think …” His voice trailed off meaningfully.
“Never mind. It will give me somewhere to start.” Lisette pushed a blank note pad and a pencil across the desk. ”Please write their address.“ This done, Lisa came to her feet. “That will be all Mr Dewlap,” she said decisively. “By the way,” she added as Reginald Dewlap moved towards the door, “I shall be forwarding a copy of my report to the police if I find anything out of order.”
An hour later Lisette Rivers was standing at the entrance to a narrow door set in the side of an old warehouse several blocks down from her own apartment. The paintwork was faded and peeling and the door unadorned aside from a narrow copper plaque on which was stamped the words: Five Aces Security. She entered and mounted a narrow flight of wooden steps that creaked with her every movement. The upper landing ended at a corridor equally narrow that branched in two directions. In one direction it ended in a cul de sac of red bricks as few paces on, partitioning it off from the next-door building. In the other direction the corridor ended similarly, with the difference that a door led off to one side.
The dingy office into which she now stepped reminded Lisa forcibly of Sûreté offices she once visited in an old warehouse near the Gare du Nord, except that the corridors there were more spacious. The waiting room had no carpet and was furnished with three battered tubular framed chairs ranged along one wall. One end was partitioned with a low counter. The alcove created behind it was empty. Another door in the wall behind was closed.
Lisette rapped on the counter with her knuckles. She had to knock twice before the door opened and a man stepped through. He wore a dark jacket over a roll-neck pullover, dark hair with sideburns, a moustache and a van Dyke beard. The hair on the back of Lisa’s neck prickled.
“Welcome to my cosy little nook. What can I do for you, pretty lady?” he asked with a grin that showed teeth stained yellow from a lifelong smoking habit.
Detail from It’s Only Smoke and Mirrors, story by Paul Monsky, art by Ed Coutts: http://www.comicspace.com/palisadespress/comics.php?action=read&file_id=270063
Lisette gave her card and stated her business. “You may know there was a robbery in this street yesterday. I’m making routine enquiries for the insurance company and wondered whether in your field of work – that’s related to mine of course – you had come across any information, for instance, whether any jewellery is being offered for private sale in the pubs around here?”
Thoughtfully, the man tapped hit teeth with her card. “No lady. Can’t say I have. But I’ll let you know if anything comes up.”
Lisa excused herself and left quickly. My god, I think he’s one of the men I saw in the robbery. She looked back over her shoulder as she descended the steps to the street. I wonder whether he recognised me?
She had walked half a block to where her car was parked when her question was answered. As she stepped past a narrow lane a figure materialised at her side. Without a word he gripped her roughly by an arm and yanked her into the shadows of the alley before she had a chance to struggle or raise an outcry. Lisette’s attacker was not the security man with the van Dyke beard. This man was shorter and more heavily built to the extent of being overweight. Lisette thought he could have been the driver of the getaway car, the one in a trench coat. This time he wore a brown jacket and trousers over a grubby white shirt.
Lisette was expecting the attack. This made a critical difference. Her hand was already in the small bag she carried, ostensibly to take out her car keys. What she did produce, however, was a compact .22 revolver. As the man swung her around to face him, Lisette calmly banged him across the head with the gun. Her attacker grunted and slid heavily to the ground where he lay on his back at her feet.
Wasting no time, Lisette dropped to one knee and began to frisk the would-be kidnapper. She worked quickly. The accomplice with the van Dyke beard could appear any moment. It was best to find out as much about them as she could and then get out of there.
All she found was an envelope but it proved the best lead possible. A glance showed that it was addressed to Jarvis Tombs, most likely the unconscious man. On the back was the address of a country house under the unlikely name of Twittering Retreat. The single sheet of folded paper inside was a flier, old and faded, advertising the place as headquarters for a bird watching society.
Detail from Action Detective, No. 24, “Nude in the Boot”
She allowed herself no further time to study the document but made her way quickly to her little Renault and drove to the office. There she spent a productive half hour accessing the DORFIS database, after which Lisette knew a lot more about Twittering Retreat. As she worked, a dangerous plan formed in her mind. She made a phone call then consulted with Sophie Brush and, after taking a quick lunch, was driving through the outer environs of the city towards the countryside and the headquarters of the birdwatchers.
Twittering Retreat was well off the beaten path. The Renault bumped along a narrow country lane off which branched several entrances to farms and cottages that would attract only hermits. Or criminal groups, thought Lisette grimly. She almost missed the overgrown track leading into the grounds. After following it for about a hundred metres, Lisette parked the car behind some bushes and continued on foot.
The DORFIS files listed Twittering Retreat as an abandoned manorial estate, but a light was on in one of the ground floor rooms that Lisette saw could be entered through French windows leading from the patio. Lisette sidled to the French windows and peered in. Heavy curtains had been drawn across but she was able to see into the room through a wide gap between them. Looks like the whole gang’s here.
Scattered about the room were the two men of the getaway car, the bearded security officer, a large woman Lisette had never seen before, and Pearl Constance. The large woman sat at a small coffee table directly facing Lisette’s line of sight. She was clad in a mannish jacket and trousers and sat half crouched over a card game that in its layout was probably a version of Patience. A brown suited man sat opposite the woman, his back towards Lisette. He was reading a newspaper. Lisette recognised him as Jarvis Tombs when he turned his head, a wide strip of flesh coloured sticking plaster across his temple. He was the man on whom she had found the incriminating document. From time to time the security man with the Van Dyke beard passed in and out of Lisette’s vision as he slowly paced the room, a picture of boredom mixed with pent-up energy. Pearl Constance was sitting opposite the man with the newspaper. She was reading a paperback novel with a florid illustration showing a scantily clad girl bound and gagged looking up in terror at her captor.
Lisette tapped softly at the door. The big woman looked up. She spoke in a heavy guttural voice that carried beyond the heavy curtains and glass panes to Lisette’s ears. “Someone’s at the door. See who it is!”
The bearded man who was already on his feet came swiftly across, pulled aside the curtains and unlatched the French windows, throwing them wide. Lisette stepped in past him and regarded the group with a cool equanimity that she did not feel.
“Well hullo,” she said. Her eyes fixed Pearl Constance with a withering look. “You keep strange company, Miss Constance,” she remarked, addressing the girl who goggled at her, the book she had been reading slipping unnoticed to the floor. Lisette nodded to the security man who was standing on her left side and a little behind her. “You too,” she added, “This is a far cry from your cosy little nook.”
“Who is this girl?” exclaimed the big woman in stentorian tones to no one in particular.
“She- she’s a private detective. Her name’s Lisa Rivers,” Pearl Constance stammered.
“Rivers? Rivers?” The suited woman looked up at Lisette frowning. “Is that right?” She was now addressing Lisette.
Lisette nodded. “Your protégé and this gentleman here,” she indicated the man with the sticking plaster, “left a paper trail any self-respecting cross country runner could follow blindfold. Of course your bogus robbery screens a far more elaborate and nasty plan. Blackmail I should think has some part in it. Miss Constance finds administrative positions with important men and women, using different aliases each time, and engineers a robbery with your two henchmen here. You take some valuables but, more importantly, you take what you have already identified as documents incriminating in some way or another: emails that reveal insider trading, for instance, or love letters, including text messages, not for the eyes of devoted wives. Blackmail victims are loath to go to the police. But a percentage of them will hire a private investigator.”
“Is she alone?” exclaimed the man in the brown coat. He started to rise then thought better of it, sitting back and touching his plastered temple delicately.
“I’ll check,” said the van Dyke beard. The man stepped out upon the patio.
“The paper trail,” Lisette went on, “works something like this: Your two goons carry out the robbery. Miss Constance lets them into the office and obligingly allows them to tie her up. They do a very good job of it too. Your bonds, Pearl, were so tight that I was taken in for a while. What helped give you away was that you did not struggle hard enough. There were no marks on your wrists that would have been caused had you been struggling for real.”
“No one out there,” said the security beard reappearing by Lisette’s side.
“So Jarvis alias Jemmy Tombs and Brewster Mudd - which are probably aliases anyway - take the documents and deliver them to your messenger boy from the security company you use as a front.” Lisette paused and indicated the man with the van Dyke beard who was hovering close behind her. “Appropriately enough inserted inside hollowed out editions of The SWAT Encyclopaedia. We may add book vandalism to your list of crimes. You have a messenger boy who acts as a fence. He’s the only member of your little gang who appears not to be here. No matter, I have a good idea who he is. He sorts the documents into their categories, graft, billets-doux and what have you, and passes them on to you Madam, with whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting until now.”
Lisette bowed ironically, her heart racing. “How am I going so far?”
“So far,” said the woman heavily, “you have it nearly right. But you’ve put yourself into a very dangerous situation by coming here on your own. How many of us did you expect to find? Did you think you could handle one or two of us?” The woman raised her hand and gestured peremptorily to the man at Lisette’s shoulder. “Search her!”
This was done. There was obviously nothing to hide beneath Lisette’s thin silk top and satin skirt, but her small shoulder bag was taken and upended. Lisette’s twenty-two calibre revolver was discovered immediately, wrapped in a silk handkerchief.
Detail from Spanish language thriller Circulo del Crimen, “Rafferty, Teniente de Homicidios,” by Bill S. Ballinger, No. 21
“Oho,” said the woman, “I think you are a little over-confident Miss, ah, Rivers.”
“She’s playing for time,” Jarvis Tombs grunted suddenly.
“Of course,” rumbled the woman. “Why didn’t I think of it? Miss Rivers has been talking non-stop since she arrived! We must search the grounds thoroughly, the gates, the access roads.”
“Right you are,” said Brewster Mudd stroking his beard. “What do we do with the girl?”
“Take her down to the cellar and lock her in there.”
Mudd gripped Lisette roughly by an arm and began to walk her across the room towards an inner door.
“Oh yes,” the woman called after them, “You might as well tie her up and gag her while you’re about it. Make sure her bonds are very tight and that the knots don’t slip. In fact truss her up securely so there’s not a peep out of her.”
Brewster Mudd conducted Lisette along a hallway to the back of the house, all the time keeping a firm grip on her arm. They entered the kitchen and passed on into a narrow pantry. Still retaining his grasp on Lisette, the man took down a coil of hempen rope from a peg behind the pantry door with his free hand. He turned Lisette around and pulled her arms behind her back, the young woman’s bag swinging to and fro from his shoulder.
“You look a picture with my shoulder bag,” said Lisette. “Have you thought of going into the fashion business Mr Mudd? You’d look ducky on the catwalk. Ouch!”
Lisette flinched as the scratchy rope was dragged tightly around her forearms just below the elbows and twisted vertically about her wrists.
“Shut up,” the man hissed. “I’ve had all I can take from your smart remarks! And so has Madame,” he added as an afterthought.
“I suppose there’s a reason for bringing my bag?”
Abruptly Lisette stopped speaking as the knots were tied, cramping her wrists together and threatening to cut circulation.
“As a matter of fact there is,” was the reply. “But first I’ll get you into this cellar.”
As Lisette watched on, helpless to turn and make a run for it with her hands bound and the pantry door closed, Mudd bent down and gripped a large metal ring set into the floor. He pulled hard and a trapdoor appeared almost magically, so flush was it set into the boards.
They descended narrow wooden steps. The walls of the stone foundations on either side imparted a chill that immediately penetrated through the fine silk of Lisette’s top. When a single globe flickered reluctantly into life with the click of a wall switch, there was not much to see. The floor was bare and had been swept relatively clean. A couple of barrels stood beside the steps, one on its side, the other standing but tilted slightly as though its contents had shifted. The only other feature of the cellar was a thick post from floor to ceiling that probably supported the kitchen floor above. Lisette was pushed down beside the post.
“This should satisfy your curiosity,” said the man as he opened Lisette’s bag and pulled from it a blue silk scarf and the silk handkerchief in which her gun had been wrapped. “No one can hear you in this place but Madame said to do this.”
“The woman you call Madame, she’s your boss isn’t she? Does she have a name? Nggg!”
Lisette’s question was cut off as Mudd stuffed the handkerchief into her mouth.
“You don’t need to know.”
Her scarf, new and crisp, was folded into a triangle and bound over her mouth and chin. She tried to work her jaw against it. The material clung to her face and sealed the wadded handkerchief inside her mouth. The handkerchief had not wrapped the gun for long, but it contained enough trace of oil to set her teeth on edge.
The young woman attempted to push the gag out of her mouth against the scarf, but desisted immediately when she felt the silk shifting against her cheeks. If Brewster Mudd noticed that the gag was beginning to slip he would only tie it anew and make it more difficult to fight her mouth free. Mudd did not notice because he was preoccupied in tying Lisette’s arms above the elbows, pulling them back then looping several coils around her torso to frame her breasts. That done, he completed the business of making Lisette helpless by tying her legs together with two separate pieces of rope, one around her ankles and the other above her knees. The hemp scratched her legs and threatened to ladder her stockings.
Mudd’s hands moved about Lisette’s body testing the ropes to make sure they were fully taut, an experience that made Lisette shiver with revulsion. When he had finished, the man turned on his heels and left. He switched off the light on his way out.
Detail from Jonah Hex, “The Slaughterhouse,” 1986, p. 31, courtesy c3c Yahoo Group, colour change by Brian Sands
Lisette waited until she heard the trapdoor thud shut, plunging her into unrelieved darkness. Confident that Brewster Mudd would not be returning for some time, she set about the jaw-stretching business of expelling the gag. The thick bulk of the handkerchief, only partly dampened with drool, at first resisted her efforts. It seemed to be hours before at last it fell into her lap, although it took little more than a minute. She grimaced and moistened her lips, swallowing saliva in an effort to get the oily taste out of her mouth. When the sick feeling had passed she wasted no further time implementing the next steps in her plan.
She wriggled her body while at the same time relaxing her arms and exhaling with a Yoga technique. The ropes that had appeared so tight to Mudd’s impertinent fingers became loose, slipping down her arms and bunching at her midriff. Although her hands were bound she could reach the waistband of her skirt. Manicured fingernails picked at the lining, found a loose thread and, by pulling upon it in small degrees that was all her wrist bonds allowed, she extracted a thin flexible blade. The sharp serrations along one side of the blade made short work of the cord holding her wrists. It was a matter of seconds for her to slip her arms out of the ropes about her body and cut through the cords entrapping her legs.
Lisette Rivers climbed shakily to her feet and examined the cellar, an inspection made easier now that she could switch on the ceiling light. So far everything had gone according to plan. She was in the house free and would soon be in a position to give Sophie Brush and the Scotland Yard men a prearranged signal. This had to be done from an upper window.
She mounted the narrow steps. As she expected, the trapdoor opened as easily from below as it did above, and soon she was in the pantry listening for any sounds of occupation in the kitchen. Everything was quiet. She opened the pantry door a crack and made sure the kitchen was empty before entering and stepping through to the hallway. As she moved silently up the stairs to the upper rooms she heard the faint murmur of voices from the living room where she had confronted the gang.
She tried three doors. The window of the third room gave the best outlook onto the approaches to the building. From its darkened interior she saw the horseshoe driveway in front of the entrance lit ghostly by the moon.
All the gang members except for one were in the building. Should she wait on the possibility that the last member might turn up or should she give the prearranged signal immediately? Waiting had its dangers. If she left it for too long, her escape from the cellar might be discovered, in which case the gang members would take alarm and flee. It might be more difficult for the police to deal with them out in the open than if they were trapped indoors. No, she decided, it’s best to give the signal now.
Lisette walked to the door and felt for the light switch. The signal was to be the elementary Morse code SOS. Three short, three long, three short: dit-dit-dit daa-daa-daa dit-dit-dit, except in this case it would be a call to move in and effect arrests instead of a rescue.
At this point Lisette’s plan went wrong. Before she could throw the switch she felt a heavy blow to the nape of the neck and everything went black.
Detail from Diabolik, Italian language comic 1692, , Sleepy Comics, http://www.sleepycomics.com/show.php?id=3396, colour by Brian Sands
In adventure fiction a heroine can be knocked out with no more ill effects than a sore head. In real life a blow to the head or neck is a far more serious matter. Lisette was fortunate in that her attacker had expertise and good aim. There was no cracked skull or broken vertebrae. She was unfortunate in that her partial unconsciousness was made complete by the application of chloroform. She was saved at least the experience of lying folded inside a car boot, bound hand and foot and with a thick cloth gag between her jaws. She was unaware of the gun battle that accompanied the gang’s escape through the police cordon. Nor was she conscious of the rocking and slithering of the car that threw her limp body from side to side, in which she sustained a bruise to her forehead.
Lisette’s return to consciousness was slow and unpleasant. The first impression of which she became aware was that she was lying on her side upon a hard wooden floor. She opened her eyes and at the same time attempted to raise her head. Immediately she slipped back into unconsciousness. Later – she could not tell how long – she became aware once again of the hard floor. This time upon opening her eyes she did not lose consciousness. She wished she had because she was instantly assailed by a splitting headache. She managed to focus her eyes. The whorl pattern of a knot in a floorboard some inches away held her attention dully for a long time before she identified what it was. Gingerly she turned her head and a more or less conscious thought entered her mind. I’m lying … on a bare floor. Where am I? What’s happened? Attempting to raise her head to look around her produced a wave of giddiness and nausea. The headache was no longer as sharp as it had been but its change to a dull throbbing was infinitely worse. This time she almost lost consciousness.
For more than an hour Lisette lay still, unable to marshal her thoughts. The headache persisted though it was not quite as bad. However, her neck and shoulders were aching and stiff. This, she eventually reasoned, was due to two things: the blow on her head and the fact that her arms were fixed behind her. After another long period of disjointed thought she vaguely remembered sensing someone behind her before a sharp blow rendered her unconscious. Careful movement and experimentation told her that the reason why her arms were behind her was that her hands were bound. She could feel constriction in her wrists produced by scratchy rope. A little more experimental movement and she discovered that her ankles were also tied together by loops of rough hemp. I’m tied hand and foot again.
Eventually she could take stock of her situation more accurately. Lisette was lying upon the floorboards of a small room that was devoid of all furniture. A single window was boarded up. Rays of light filtered through to produce here and there strips of light across the floor. Dust motes hung in the beams. A creased scarf of heavy silk lay a couple of feet from her head. She was still wearing her thin top of pink silk contrasted against the filmy blue skirt.
It was very difficult to piece together thoughts much less come up with some smart plan to get away. The heavy blow had left her weak and scarcely able to move even if she had been free to do so. When further time had elapsed Lisette grew more aware of the nearby sound of motor traffic. A house … I’m in an empty house … with a main road close by. Am I back in the city?
She raised her head with less giddiness. This encouraged her to try pushing herself upright with her bound hands, but she fell back exhausted by the effort. Her head swam and she almost slipped back into unconsciousness. I must have a bit of concussion.
It was a cogent thought, accurate and sobering. She was too sick and weak to do anything for herself. Had she been at her usual peak of fitness she could have moved about the room easily. After all, she was only bound hand and foot and not trussed up.
They’ve got me. Try to think … What happened? … Oh yes. In that room looking out over the driveway ... Someone behind me.
Lisette lay still, breathing slowly, trying by sheer willpower to recover her strength. Nothing seemed to work.
She was still in that state when perhaps half an hour later the door opened slowly on rusty hinges that emitted a faint but insistent squealing. A figure entered the room. Incuriously Lisette raised her head and tried to focus her eyes. When her vision had cleared sufficiently she recognised the large forbidding form of Madame, the leader of the gang.” Someone else was standing behind the woman well back beyond the threshold. Lisette could not tell who it was. Madame spoke over her shoulder to the person in a sibilant rumble. “Just as I thought, the girl’s awake.”
The woman walked across to Lisette and looked down upon her with a gaze of unrelenting granite. “Since you forgot the bag with the chloroform, we’ll have to use a less effective method to keep her quiet. I might add it’s a pity you couldn’t have found a more secluded place for us to hide out.” The figure in the background remained silent. “It’s too dangerous with the heavy foot traffic passing close outside,” the woman continued. “The girl will have to be kept gagged at all times.”
With those words Madame knelt beside Lisette and picked up the scarf from where it lay on the floor. Without ceremony she stuffed the thick silk into Lisette’s mouth and drew the ends around to the back of her neck where she made a knot under Lisette’s hair. The knot was slowly and cruelly drawn tight so that the gag thrust deeply, penetrating the captive’s mouth and forcing her jaws apart. Lisette made a faint choking sound as the knot was doubled and tied viciously tight.
“We’ll come back when we’ve decided what to do with her.”
On that ominous note the woman left. The door closed behind her on protesting hinges.
Time passed. Streaks of light moved slowly across the floor like a crazy sundial. Lisette lay still, her head pounding, her mouth dried out by the gag. People walked past on the footpath just outside the window but she could not utter a sound that might reach their ears. The gag made it difficult to breathe. She drifted in and out of consciousness.
When it was late afternoon the glimmers of light on the floor had began to dissipate into grey smudges. Lisette heard scratching at the door, giggling, children venturing into a haunted house.
“I didn’t get a look at the person who hit me. It all happened so suddenly.”
Lisette was lying in a hospital bed propped up on several pillows, her neck in a brace more as a medical precaution than an indicator of real damage. Sophie Brush and Chèrie Chalmers were sitting in padded visitors’ chairs side by side watching their friend gravely.
“You were just about to give Sophie and the police the signal when that happened.” It was more a statement than a question on Chèrie’s part. Lisette nodded gingerly.
“I suppose that wrecked our plan,” said Lisette.
“It didn’t help,” said Sophie. “We were poised to go in. I thought enough time had passed and we’d see your signal any second. “DI Fysshe thought so too. Then we heard the sound of a car.”
“They broke through the police road block and were away before the police could give chase,” said Chèrie with a faint schoolmarmish cough. “There were reports of the vehicle entering the city but it could not be traced.”
Sophie took up the account. “We found the house empty and rope in the cellar that had been cut, so we guessed you had been held there and got yourself free with that little knife blade you carry.”
“Yes,” Chèrie agreed. “In the end it was a lucky chance. The gang holed up in an abandoned house due for demolition with other houses in the street. You know how children fancy that such houses are haunted? Well, a particularly adventurous brother and sister went in and found you, and here you are, ipso facto.”
“The doctors say if you’re well enough you can go home tonight. I’ve been looking after Rasputin but he won’t leave your flat.”
Lisette sighed. “So the gang’s made a bunk and all we have – I have – are sore shoulders. I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
“There are no leads?” asked Chèrie hopefully.
“No. No, from what you’ve said the trail’s cold. However,” said Lisette with a sudden thought, “I think I know who coshed me, and in a couple of days I’ll set a trap for them. By the way, thank you for returning earlier than you planned. It will be good to have both of you as backup in the office.”
“Not another trap, Miss!” exclaimed Sophie.
“We know you only too well,” said Chèrie severely. “If I’m not mistaken, dear colleague, you intend to play the bait in the trap again.”
“Mr Dewlap, there is something you want to tell me isn’t there?”
Reginald Dewlap of Folde, Dewlap and Stappler Associates Solicitors, stood flatfooted at the door of his office. He had been on the point of leaving to find his way blocked by Lisette Rivers standing decisively in the entrance.
“Miss Rivers! I- I don’t know what you mean,” the man quavered.
“I think you do,” said Lisette firmly. She stepped into the room. Dewlap backed away clutching a thin black briefcase in his arms. “You hired me to retrieve documents that might be used in blackmail, and if possible to locate the gang responsible for their theft. I’ve come to report that I’ve found the documents.”
“You- you’ve found …?” Reginald Dewlap stared at Lisette in disbelief.
“Oh yes.” Lisette tapped the small handbag that hung in its strap from her forearm. “I have the police receipt here. You remember I warned you that if anything were amiss I would make my report available to the police. I’ve done more than that. I’ve included the documents. The people at DORFIS are very interested. They’re a branch of Scotland Yard you know, a Department of Reconnaisance, Field Intelligence and Surveillance. There’s not much gets past them.”
“I don’t believe you. You can’t have the documents!”
“No? I’ll show you the receipt.”
Lisette opened her handbag and started to reach inside.
“Oh no you don’t,” quavered Dewlap. With a faster movement than that of Lisette the man drew a revolver from his briefcase. “Don’t move!”
Lisette began to raise her hands. Her bluff was working. Her bag this time held nothing more sinister than a small pack of toiletries, a notebook and pen, a spare scarf and handkerchiefs. She was unarmed, wearing the same pink silk top and blue skirt she had worn at the birdwatcher’s old country house, with the addition of a deep blue silk neck scarf and a soft black leather belt that hid another serrated blade.
Dewlap was the weak link in the chain, the only gang member who had not gone to ground because he believed he was unsuspected. By confronting him Lisette reasonably expected she might flush the others into the open. She knew this for certain when there was a movement behind her and, upon turning, she saw Brewster Mudd barring her way out. The man wore a trench coat and was now clean-shaven.
Detail fromPrincess,“Jane Bond – Secret Agent,” 9 September 1967, p. 18, art by Mike Hubbard, Illustration Art Gallery, colour added by Brian Sands
It was a wild scheme, but Lisette had persuaded Chèrie and Sophie that if she allowed herself to fall into the hands of the gang once again she would be relatively safe. Although there was a violent aspect to their operations, the gang members were not killers. They were, Lisette had argued, solely thieves and blackmailers.
“What can we …?” exclaimed Dewlap in bewilderment.
“Do with her?” Brewster Mudd finished the sentence for his accomplice. “Why you fool, you’ll just have to come with us, leave the country. The girl we’ll put in the storeroom. It’s Friday. All the staff have left. No one will open up the place until Monday and a jet leaves for the Continent daily. They won’t find Miss Rivers until then.”
Mudd took Lisette by her arm and steered her out and down the passage unresisting past adjoining office doors until he came to one with “Storeroom” stencilled upon it. Dewlap followed behind, grumbling under his breath. Lisette was hustled through and pushed down into a wooden chair. Her handbag was taken. Mudd walked to a stack of old crates and picked up several lengths of heavy rope that had been used for packing. He turned to Lisette.
“You know the drill, arms behind you.”
The freighting company that had delivered the crates in the room had been stingy with its supplies and there were merely a few pieces of rope to hand. Mudd bound each of Lisette’s upper arms to the wooden frame of the chair and did the same for her wrists, high enough up her forearms to make it difficult to reach the knots with her fingers. That accounted for four pieces of the thick stuff. One remaining piece was used to tie Lisette’s ankles together.
She put on a brave front and sat still, but kept her body resistant as she had done before. This time, however, it would be more difficult to get free because the coils were tied individually to the chair and it would be difficult to reach the blade in her belt. Sophie and Chèrie will be along soon enough, and a squad of DORFIS officers, she thought confidently. There’s not likely to be any slip-ups this time.
Aloud, she said: “You don’t seriously think you’ll get away with this?” There was scorn in her voice. “You can tie me up here, but the airports will be crawling with police. They shan’t need me to help catch you lot.”
But matters were about to become complicated. While Mudd was tying Lisette, Brewster Dewlap was speaking frantically into his mobile phone to Madame. It’s a bonus for those guys in DORFIS, thought Lisette who knew that the solicitor’s phones were being tapped.
“We can’t bring her with us,” Dewlap almost shouted. “It’s too dangerous.” Madame’s reply was inaudible. “Yes, that’s a good idea,” Dewlap said in agreement with his unheard instructions.
The solicitor snapped the mobile phone shut and turned to Brewster Mudd. “Make the girl quiet. There’s something I need to get.” He left the room.
Lisette endured the gag patiently as a handful of handkerchiefs and her spare scarf were taken from her handbag and crammed into her mouth. Her own dark blue neck scarf, bound very tightly over her face, covered her mouth and jaw. It wrapped against her cheeks with the slick feel that only thin silk can impart.
They had gagged her this way before, and she remembered that the girl Pearl Constance had been gagged similarly when colluding with the burglars. The method, then, was Brewster Mudd’s trademark. It was rough but notably efficient. The wadding filled her mouth almost to bursting so that it bulged against the silk bandaged around her face in such a way that packing and covering locked together. Her jaws were held wide apart, which made it impossible to push the linen handkerchiefs and silk scarf out from under the covering scarf with her tongue. She might manage after a lot of struggling, when the packing became sodden with saliva and reduced in size. But that would be a long time coming.
Lisette steeled herself to suffer the gag for what might be many hours. On the other hand, she thought, the phone was tapped and Dewlap’s conversation with his boss the Madame would have been intercepted. They were leaving her in the building so she was confident of an early rescue once Dewlap and Mudd had gone to join their boss. Strange to think that her comfortable apartment with its resident feline stood only a few blocks away up the street.
The door opened and Reginald Dewlap reentered. He was encumbered with a large suitcase in one hand. A load of leather straps hung from the crook of his other arm. He looked at Lisette bound and gagged in the chair and giggled faintly. “Change of plan,” he anounced to Brewster Mudd. “We’re taking Lisette Rivers with us. Jemmy’s idling the car outside.”
Mudd was astounded. “But why …?” he started to say.
“Why? Easy as pie. Our phones are being tapped so we’ll make it harder for the cops. The girl is now a hostage. If we have to, we’ll haul her out and use her as a bargaining chip. When they come to rescue her she won’t be here.”
The two men were by now strapping Lisette up into a compact bundle as they spoke. The suitcase lay open on the floor waiting to receive her.
“She’s quiet enough,” said Brewster Mudd confidently. “A gag tied good and tight keeps the woman very still. She’s frightened to move, see.”
It was true. Lisette was very still, breathing shallowly through her nose and trying to conserve energy. The constricted position in which she lay made breathing a lot more difficult. It was a ball tie combined with hogtie. Mudd slapped her intimately across the bottom. She grunted faintly. Her body quivered against the straps. She could not move.
Lisette was stuffed into the suitcase and the lid closed. She felt the pressure of the sides against her as two leather straps were buckled around the suitcase to make sure the lid did not spring free of its locks. Her next experience was of being lifted and carried. Fortunately she had been placed so that she was lying on her back when the suitcase was upended. The pain from her arms, bound behind her, and legs crushed under her body was excruciating but at least she could move her head. Her face was not pressed against the interior lining.
There was a nightmare of movement as she was carried by one of the men. Some moments later the suitcase was placed upon its side and precious relief followed as the weight upon her arms and her legs eased off. Then there was stillness and silence for another moment broken by the familiar rocking movement of car travel. Lisette wondered whether the suitcase was on the back seat or locked in the boot of the car. It scarcely mattered. She could hear no more than a faint growling of sound, either that of the car’s motor or street traffic. She could not move. She could not speak or cry out.
The journey’s end came surprisingly fast. One moment there was the rocking and vibration of travel, the next moment the vehicle seemed to lurch to a halt. She felt the suitcase with her in it being pulled from the car and carried as it had been before. This time the cramped ordeal lasted longer. She had no idea of direction. It might have been upwards mounting steps or descending, perhaps both.
Lisette was barely conscious when the suitcase was set down on its side and the straps unbuckled. The lid was opened. She was lifted out and placed onto a cushioned sofa. Her eyes flickered open. They were in a small dimly lit room. The straps that held her doubled up were removed. The room felt crowded. She thought she recognized the large bulk of Madame and the lesser willowy frame of the girl Pearl Constance. The strap holding her legs bent in hogtie was also released. The gang forgot about her.
Lisette watched as the gang members milled about the room showing every sign of panic. What had happened? She looked about, her eyes noting the old furniture and stained threadbare carpet. The room was vaguely familiar. She shifted so that she lay more comfortably on her side. Circulation was returning slowly to her legs and arms.
She had just observed that one of the gang members was missing when the door opened and Reginald Dewlap followed by Jarvis Tombs stumbled in. Both men were out of breath. Dewlap was mopping his face with a large handkerchief.
“My god,” he announced, “that was a close shave! Ditched the car and came in the back way. There are police everywhere.”
“I told you!” cried Pearl Constance who was almost in hysterics. “If I hadn’t noticed that road block way up the street our gooses would all be cooked.”
“But they’re not,” said Madame heavily. “So take hold of yourself. We must,” she continued as she paced the floor, “have a meeting, a council of war.”
“Not much to talk about is there?” said Brewster Mudd who was making himself comfortable in an armchair that matched the sofa on which Lisette lay. “We wait till the cops get tired of it, then grab another car and get out to one of the ferry ports.”
“But what if they search the street house by house?” exclaimed Pearl Constance. “We can’t stay here. This room’s too exposed.”
Lisette realised with surprise that they were in the ground floor reception area of the apartment building where Pearl Constance had played the part of victim in the bogus robbery. But why were they not in the Constance woman’s own apartment? Lisette’s question was answered by the girl’s next sentence.
“I mean, I - we - can’t go up to my flat because they police are probably still watching it. And I do so much want a change of clothes.”
Pearl Constance began to cry, an emotion that developed steadily into a long drawn out wail. Her cry was cut off by Jarvis Tombs’ hand clapped firmly over her mouth. He other arm wrapped around Pearl, pinning her arms to her sides and quickly subduing her struggles. The cries choked off into muffled sobbing.
Madame shifted uncomfortable in the second armchair. “We need time to think. We have that at least, though we don’t know how long.”
“It’s getting dark,” said Mudd. “We can scarper if it’s dark enough.”
“Yes,” Madame agreed. “Yes. Turn off the light and pull the blinds down. Jemmy, you can let go of Miss Constance, but if she gets hysterical again you will gag her.”
“With pleasure,” said Tombs. It was the first time he had spoken. The strong, silent type, thought Lisette.
Tombs released Pearl’s mouth and stepped back. The girl stumbled to the other side of the room until she came up against the wall, where she stood alternately rubbing her jaw and arms and looking daggers at the man. She had calmed down.
“That reminds me,” said Madame as Brewster Mudd switched off the ceiling light and closed the window blinds. “How is our pretty hostage?”
She walked over to the sofa and stood regarding the captive. Lisette returned the woman’s gaze bravely. But her flushed face and the sweat glistening on her forehead, temples and neck showed how intensely she was suffering.
“Hmm. The girl can have her gag off. Give her a drink of water. A dead hostage is no use to us.”
Lisette groaned with relief as the thin silk was peeled down from her face. The packing of her own handkerchiefs and scarf was removed fastidiously by Pearl Constance at Madame’s command. The girl performed the kindness with a look of revulsion on her pretty face, the thought of having it done to herself no doubt uppermost in her mind. For a long while Lisette could not move her jaws. The water brought to her lips relieved her parched mouth and throat, although half the contents dribbled down her chin to soak the silk top and the scarf that now hung loose around her neck.
Pearl Constance stepped back and looked enquiringly towards Madame. “Shall I put that … that thing back on her?” she asked in a small voice.
Madame shook her head. “I’m sure Miss Rivers will behave herself, won’t you?” Lisette nodded. “We’ll do something about it later.”
With those words Madame picked up a garish blue and grey blanket that was almost as threadbare as the carpet beneath their feet and arranged it over Lisette so that only her eyes could be seen watching from its folds.
Detail fromDiabolic,175-066, courtesy Sleepy Comics, colour added by Brian Sands
The gang settled down to wait for the coming of night, but it was not a placid vigil. One or another gang member paced the floor until reproachful looks from the others forced retirement to a chair. Eventually Mudd drew a pack of cards from his jacket and he, Dewlap, Jarvis Tombs and Madame played a desultory game of poker while Pearl looked on meekly, and Lisette in obedient silence from her place on the couch.
At last, tiring of the game, Madame rose and left the room for some minutes. When she returned she carried in one hand a roll of medical sticking plaster and a pair of scissors. She went to Lisette and pulled back the corner of blanket that covered the captive’s face.
“Here, have a sip or two before I strap up your mouth.”
Lisette knew better than to plead or struggle, and drank the water that was given without a murmur. Madame carefully wiped Listte’s mouth dry, observing that she wanted the adhesive to stick firmly. She cut a strip of tape from the dispenser and held it delicately at each end, sticky side outwards. Lisette was told to purse her lips. The tape was a good two inches wide, if not more, and neatly covered her mouth from nose to chin with the ends smoothed over her cheeks.
Detail fromThe Log of the Black Pearl,Van’s Vidcap Vault in Profoz page
The blanket was pulled back across her face. Once again Lisette was forgotten.
Lisette calculated that it was about two hours before the gang started into activity. For that period they had all lounged about the room in a sort of torpor. Lisette herself had laid still, only from time to time shifting her position slightly to overcome the cramping caused by her bonds, her wrists straining against the straps that held them, fingers flexing. She did not want to draw attention to herself for fear that Madame or one of the others would become impatient and truss her into a hogtie or something worse.
Her lips, pursed together, remained tightly sealed by the adhesive plaster. Her jaw and mouth worked against the stuff without effect and she soon gave up any attempt to get rid of the gag. It hurt when she tried to open her mouth and, as time passed, the sticky gag began to itch relentlessly. There was nothing she could do about it.
When it came, the nature of the gang’s renewed activity was a surprise.
Brewster Mudd, Reginald Dewlap, Jarvis Tombs and Pearl Constance all jumped at Madame’s sudden exclamation. “I know what we’ll do! I’ve been going through detective Lisette Rivers’ things.”
Lisette, who had been dozing, opened her eyes wide.
“I didn’t know our private investigator lived in an apartment just across the road. Why didn’t you tell me?” she cast a withering look in Pearl’s direction.
“I- I didn’t think it was important,” Pearl faltered.
“Nor me,” said Dewlap who for once was supporting the girl. “Why is it important anyway?”
“Don’t you see?” said Madame, speaking very slowly as though to an intellectual inferior. ”We’ll be safer there, less likely to be found by the police, than staying in here.”
“The scene of the crime,” Brewster Mudd interrupted with an ironic chuckle.
“Are you sure?” asked Pearl.
“Of course I am, you silly girl. Come on and get packed. We’ll take Miss Rivers with us.”
The straps were removed from Lisette’s arms and legs and the tape peeled off, stinging her cheeks and lips. She was hauled to her feet and led tottering to the door. All her limbs shivered as circulation was painfully restored.
“Better tie her hands,” said Madame. “We don’t want her getting ideas about running off.”
It was Jarvis Tombs this time. He pulled Lisette’s arms behind her and bound her wrists together with a few turns of a short piece of cord. The cavalcade proceeded onto the pavement. Lisette was too weak and parched to attempt a cry for help. In any case the way was empty in a darkness relieved by two widely spaced street lamps. Madame was the first to cross the road. Her blocky figure in the trench coat stalked ahead confidently. Next followed Mudd and Tombs hustling Lisette between them. Then came Pearl Constance, looking fearfully up and down the empty street with Dewlap on her heels. All the gang members wore overcoats of one sort or another. Lisette, wearing only her thin silk top and satin skirt, shivered in the cold night air. The warmly heated foyer of her apartment block was welcome as they stepped in through the security door, opened by Madame with Lisette’s passkey.
Rasputin Thermodux the First was watching television. Initially he had been switching channels at random until an old James Bond movie caught his eye. He hunkered down on the broad armrest of Lisette’s sofa and gazed with fading interest as the movie ran. The white cat in it did nothing except lie in the arms of its human. Somewhere in Rasputin’s fuzzy mind there lurked a judgement that in human terms could be translated as: Insipid animal, nothing but a lap cat. I could do better.
Rasputin’s round puss shifted from open interest to mild annoyance and finally bored indifference. Images of sardines began to float in his mind and he wondered whether he had left any morsels in the bowl presented by that yellow haired human who visited him that morning. He stood, arched his back and fluffed out his coat. He was halfway across the room heading towards the kitchen when a sound from outside the main door stopped him in mid stride, a front paw raised.
“There’s someone in there!”
“No,” Lisette answered Madame wearily. “It’s only the TV on automatic.”
Madame turned the key and one by one the group filed in cautiously, all except for Lisette who was hoping that there really might be a police ambush laid for the gang. She was disappointed, however, for the flat looked empty, its semi-darkness bathed in the silvery light from the television. The indirect glow of one of the street lamps played on the living room window as though it was a second, fainter television screen.
“Draw the curtains,” Madame ordered.
As Brewster Mudd walked across the floor to do her bidding, the air was split by a blood-curdling yowl.
From his favourite vantage point atop the six-foot bookshelf Rasputin Thermodux the First glared balefully at the intruders. The female scent of his human – his human, who delivered milk offerings daily – mingled with that of the four others. His human. His territory. There was only one thing a self-respecting fighting cat could do.
Rasputin launched himself through the air upon the nearest intruder. This was Reginald Dewlap who in sidling around the room had come up against the bookshelf. Well-practised in these matters, Rasputin landed with all four paws upon the unfortunate solicitor’s head with claws extended. For a moment the furious feline looked like a strange Davy Crocket hat. Dewlap fell screaming to the floor minus several pieces of hair and scalp.
The large white Persian leapt on across the room to latch upon the leg of Brewster Mudd. His fangs penetrated the man’s trousers deep into the calf. Mudd yelled and kicked out. This gave Rasputin useful momentum. He sailed upwards across the room, turning gracefully in midair, and landed this time upon the upper arm of Madame’s trench coat. A bristling ball of furious feline fury hissed its way up the woman’s shoulder and embedded his claws in her hair. Madame shouted angrily and tried to bat him away. One arm flailed across the face of Jarvis Tombs and knocked him backwards over a chair and into the wall. She succeeded in dislodging the aerial feline but not before Rasputin had raked Madame’s cheek and carried off her well disguised hairpiece.
Neither was Lisette idle. During those brief seconds of mayhem the pretty detective threw herself to the wall and pushed her shoulder against the switches there. One was a light switch and the room became lit gradually by a Warm White energy saving lamp. The other switch was a police alarm. There was no sound in the room but there was a lot of sound and flashing led lights in the nearest police station. Lisette was concerned about personal security and had made sure of this upon taking up her apartment. It was a logical precaution, as Chèrie once said, considering her mode of employment.
Detail fromFemforce,AC Comics,2003, No. 119, p. 16, colour added by Brian Sands
Brewster Mudd was hopping on one leg and clutching at his punctured calf. Reginald Dewlap lay on the floor in a foetal position moaning and wrapping his arms around his bleeding scalp. Jarvis Tombs was trying unsuccessfully to get to his feet but could raise himself no further than his knees. Madame had flopped into an armchair and was gibbering quietly, her hair, now revealed as thin and grey, sticking in all directions.
Rasputin Thermodux sat proudly at the foot of the television, the trophy at his feet looking like a large hairy rat.
The only gang member untouched by the Persian’s attentions was Pearl Constance. The girl had stood frozen to the spot, her hands to her mouth as in horrified fascination she watched the big cat dispose of Dewlap, Mudd, Tombs and Madame in turn. Then, coming to herself, she gave a small squeak, turned and ran to the door.
Lisette barred the way. Her hands were tied behind her and Pearl rushed towards freedom taking little thought of the young woman.
“Out of the way, please. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“That’s sweet of you dear,” Lisette replied, “but not very wise.”
As Pearl Constance came within range, Lisette delivered a short kick. It was not a showy and ultimately impractical roundhouse kick of the sort practised by Karate and Kung Fu enthusiasts. It was a straight kick at midriff height delivered with an economy of movement and a minimum of force, an Aikido kick taught to Lisette by her friend Bryce la Plage. It had the desired effect. Pearl Constance folded up and dropped gently to the floor where she lay winded but otherwise unharmed.
Brewster Mudd, the remaining ambulatory member of the gang, was a greater threat. As he lurched towards Lisette his arms spread to seize her, he gabbled: “Everyone for ‘imself. You’ll make a good hostage.”
The man had almost reached Lisette, who had backed up against the door, when he threw up his arms and screamed. He staggered back and began to dance a sort of jig, waving his arms about and trying to reach behind him. In his gyrations Lisette saw the big Persian clinging to Mudd’s back like a limpet. The kick to his solar plexus was a lot harder than the one meted out to Pearl Constance. Heavy pounding upon the door began as Mudd dropped wheezing to the carpet.
Later that morning Lisette typed the last lines of her report and handed the printout to Sophie for filing. The pretty administrative assistant pushed a stray blonde lock into her chignon.
“I guess Chèrie and I will always have to keep an eye on you, Miss, when you make yourself an offering to criminals like that gang?”
“Very probably, Sophie dear,” sighed Lisette. “Otherwise they’ll get away with all those tricks, like false robbery to enable more heinous crimes such as blackmail. So as long as we’re in this business …”
Back at Lisette’s apartment Rasputin Thermodux the First, replete with milk and sardines, waddled across the living room and leapt into his favourite armchair. His paw patted lightly upon the remote control. Another James Bond movie was just beginning.
Detail fromBlofeld’s Cat,Artrepublic
Copyright Brian Sands 2010.