Lisette Rivers & the Crumbling Mansion Affair

 

by

 

Brian Sands

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), Stephanie Powers, Anuvids

 

Chapter FifteenMrs Batts: Light Housekeeper

At least, I know where I am, thought Lisette wearily. She said: “Welcome to my lighthouse.”

Lisette was not only weary from spending the night tightly bound with a thick gag in her mouth; she was also nauseated by the cold baked beans that the woman had forced her to eat, washed down with a cup of tepid tea that tasted like the last gasp of a teabag re-used too often.

But her bonds had been changed and she was moderately more comfortable than she had been. Her arms and legs had been freed from the ropes that trussed them. On the other hand, she was still tied very tightly hand and foot, her ankles and wrists linked by a short piece of rope. Every time she changed position the hog tie stretched her arms and legs painfully. It was more than enough to encourage her to lie still and not to struggle.

She had been gagged again with her own silk scarf, tied so as to hold her jaws apart. But this simple measure was reinforced with a thick brown woollen scarf. It had an oily residue that set her teeth on edge. Grease and cold baked beans did not go well together. She could be sick at any moment and knew that if it happened she might easily choke. Sweat beaded her brow as she fought down the rising bile.

Her new prison was close to the tunnel and cave at the sea wall. Lisette wondered whether the crone rejoicing under the appropriate name of Batts was somehow associated with the drug ring. As far as Lisette could judge, she was in the sole care of the awful woman after being delivered by Balaclava and Slim who may be no longer involved, having played their parts as extras in the affair.

Who are they? They came, kidnapped me efficiently, and left me in the hands of this horrible woman! … I’ve got to get out of here before she comes back.

It was easy to have those thoughts but more difficult to put them into practice. Now that she could move about a little more easily, escape might not be impossible. Lisette cast her eyes about the narrow cell. The walls were smooth and bare. So also was the floor, the only item of furniture the thin mattress upon which she lay. She was about to lose hope when she caught the glint of something metallic in a corner. It lay half hidden within a small mound of dust and rubble that had been swept up and not yet taken away with the plastic dustpan and brush that lay near. Evidently the keeper of the lighthouse was forgetful about light housekeeping.

With returning hope, Lisette edged her way on her side across the floor, an aggravatingly difficult manoeuvre with her hands and feet tied together. When at last she reached the corner she was bathed in sweat and breathing heavily through the tight gag. The glittering prize proved to be the lid from the tin of baked beans that she had been force-fed. It was serrated and, when she managed a firm grip that would not cut her fingers, she pressed the edge against the cord that held the hog tie and began sawing steadily. The sharp edges cut through the fibres satisfyingly and soon the cord came apart. Her legs sprang straight and instantly the intolerable strain upon her shoulders eased.

Smiley the Psychotic Button,

With her legs free, Lisette sat and cut the cords that bound her wrists. It was more difficult because of the angle at which they had been tied. All the same, as with the hog tie, she met with success, except that it took a lot longer. As each fibre snapped Lisette felt the constrictions around her wrists lessen until the cord fell apart. It was only a matter of a minute and her ankles were also free and she gathered herself unsteadily to her feet.

It took more time to pull apart the thick knot of the woollen gag and ease the revolting thing from her mouth, then to unpick the knot in the silk scarf bound between her jaws. The scarf she tied about her waist as a belt. Creased and used as a gag and wet with drool it might be, but it was her scarf.

All right, I’m loose, but I’m still locked inside this room. How much time do I have before she checks on me?

Lisette began to explore further options for escape.

DI Hereward Fysshe gazed morosely at the horoscope printed drinking mug on his desk, souvenir Portmeirion pottery from north Wales: “The Capricornian excels in activities that demand discipline, toughness and endurance. He might do well … as a policeman … ‘Look before you leap’ is a favourite Capricornian maxim …” Detective Inspector Fysshe looked into the mug. The coffee was cold and congealed. It had been standing that way overnight.

There was a businesslike rap at the door and Detective Sergeant Poppy Chipps entered and came to attention in front of Fysshe’s desk, a clipboard in her hands and a confident expression on her face. DI Fysshe looked up blearily at the smiling face of his DS. Something should be done about early morning cheerfulness, he thought numbly.

“Good news, Sir,” Poppy began happily.

“Urrhm?”

“We have a breakthrough,” Poppy continued, a little less cheerfully. “The Sergeant on surveillance at the Swallowtail Cottage reports that Miss Rivers took an afternoon stroll around the environs.”

Nice weather to be out, yesterday, thought Fysshe wistfully. He had spent that day, and half the night, cloistered within the records office under a mountain of reports.

“They followed the young lady,” Poppy continued, “and it appears that she was coerced into a car by persons alleged unknown. The vehicle was a dark four-wheel drive Landrover, short wheelbase. As per instructions, the Sergeant and his Constable did not move to apprehend the perpetrators but followed at a discreet distance. The alleged kidnappers led them to the old lighthouse at the end of the lane that forms a junction with Cliff Road.

“Aha!” exclaimed Fysshe, sitting up and almost knocking the coffee mug to the floor. He caught it in time but some of the liquid splashed over his shirt cuff where it merged with older stains to make an interesting pattern in brownish Thai-dye. “We wondered about that place. Lighthouse empty, now lighthouse re-opened.”

“Perhaps a temporary measure, Sir, as a place to hold Miss Rivers?”

“Very likely, yes … “

“The two officers report that Miss Rivers was carried to the door of the lighthouse by a large man. She appeared to be bound and blindfolded. The driver remained in the vehicle. An old woman in a shapeless blue smock opened the door. She is identified as Mrs Norma Batts, formerly owner-proprietor of the Batts Motel, Middle Bodley. A minute later, the man quitted the lighthouse and he and his accomplice drove off. They were not apprehended but the number of their vehicle was taken.”

DI Fysshe came to his feet. “Good work, Pop- uh, Detective Sergeant. I think it is about time the young woman was rescued. We should get something out of the Batts woman, but to delay longer than this places Miss Rivers in greater jeopardy.” He reached for his overcoat where it hung on a rack by the door.

“There is another matter of importance, Sir,” said Poppy Chipps.

“Eh?”

“Ys, Sir. The Sergeant reports that, soon after the two kidnappers left the scene, a young woman was observed hiding behind tussocks of grass on the hillside, from where she was keeping the lighthouse under surveillance. The Sergeant identifies her as Miss Sunny Virtue.”

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“The heiress of Weatherstone Hall, eh? I didn’t know she was back.”

“Nobody knew, Sir. The young woman must have returned that moment, more or less, though how she comes to be keeping the lighthouse under surveillance is a mystery. She may have been there for some time. There was a thermos flask, a blanket and a food hamper by her side.”

“Hmm. Obviously she has reason to be interested in that lighthouse. She and Miss Rivers formed a friendship since they met, and they like to play at amateur detective work.”

“Hardly amateur in Miss Rivers’ case, Sir. The lady is a well-known and well-respected private detective, Sir, with DORFIS connections remember.”

“Ah yes, the DORFIS connections,” said DI Fysshe peevishly. Bigwigs in the Met … His thoughts trailed off. He did not wish to share them with Poppy – DI Chipps.

“What shall we do?” asked the second object of his thoughts.

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“More surveillance I think, but this time we’ll do it in person.

Lisette’s heart felt leaden as she tried the heavy iron handle of her cell door. She had no expectation that it had been left unlocked and was wondering whether the lid from the baked bean tin could be adapted to unscrew the door’s hinges. It had proved efficacious in freeing her bonds, but she doubted that it would make a good screwdriver.

To her surprise, the handle turned fully and the door swung open on silent hinges. She mounted the concrete steps to the wooden door above. This door also proved to be unlocked and she stepped lightly into a narrow closet where she found herself facing another door. Opening it, she stepped into a small circular room. She was within the lighthouse itself. This is how Alice felt when she entered Wonderland, Lisette thought. It’s a curious arrangement. She considered that the concrete steps and the cellar where she had been imprisoned must have been an addition to the lighthouse after it was built. It was strange for it to begin at the second floor and end, she guessed, below ground. On the other hand, it was an ideal place in which to store contraband.

By now Lisette was expecting the whole business to be a nasty trap for her captor’s amusement: to allow her to believe that she could get free only to be recaptured and gloated over. But no one was there. A narrow spiral staircase on the other side of the room led upwards and downwards. She must be in a storeroom mid way between the upper levels of the lighthouse and another room below.

She descended, treading carefully so that her feet would not ring on the metal framework of the staircase. The spiral stairs ended at a concrete floor. From her vantage several steps up, she saw that she was entering a kitchen. A wooden door over on one side must lead to freedom. With her heart in her mouth, she stepped down into the room.

A kettle upon a grimy stove bubbled over a low flame. The careless lighthouse keeper sat in a swivel rocking chair with her back towards Lisette. The woman had fallen asleep. One skeletal arm hung grotesquely by her side, the bony fingers suspended inches above the floor. Mrs Batts was snoring, a sound that covered Lisette’s footsteps as she padded softly towards the door. If I can get through, I can make a run for it, she thought desperately.

Lisette had made it halfway across the small room when the kettle emitted a sharp pop and a cloud of steam jetted from its spout, startling Mrs Batts into wakefulness. The woman, still half asleep, struggled to rise from her chair but her feet scrabbled upon the floor. This caused the rocking chair to tilt back and revolve at the same time. Lisette was treated to a grinning skull-like visage, eyes still bleared with sleep, as Mrs Batts revolved.

Upon seeing Lisette, Mrs Batts let out a strangled scream of fury and attempted once more to quit the seat. This time her feet struck and propelled the rocking chair backwards where she careened into the stove and almost upset the kettle of scalding water upon herself before tumbling to the floor. Frothing at the mouth and still making uncanny screams, Mrs Batts approached Lisette on all fours like a demented animal. It was still possible to escape before the madwoman reached her.

Lisette backed up against the door. She felt behind her for the handle and found it. It turned easily. She spun around and threw open the door, to fall into the waiting arms of the man who had kidnapped her. The shock of defeat left her drained and non-resisting. She hung limply in the man’s arms with no will to fight against the hand that was clamped firmly over her mouth. Keeping Lisette quiet appeared unnecessary compared to the screaming of the crone that echoed through the lighthouse.

Within minutes Lisette found her self once again in the narrow cell, bound hand and foot as before and with a woman’s satin scarf tied tightly between her jaws. The gag was not as thin as her own silk scarf, which was still in service as a belt around her waist, or as thick as Mrs Batts’s nauseating woollen muffler. But the rich satin was stiff with newness and did its job. Lisette was too dazed with shock and disappointment to struggle.

She could not guess how long she had lain in mental fugue, but slowly she returned to her senses enough to take further stock of her situation. It was hopeless. The bonds at her wrists were tight and unyielding, as too were those that snared her ankles. The gag, deep in her mouth, was so tight that it was impossible to push out over her chin. No cries for help would penetrate the thick walls of the concrete cell even if she were not gagged. The male kidnapper had made sure of that. What are they going to do with me? A key turned in the lock - another precaution against an escape ploy, to make sure the room was locked this time – and the door swung open.

Raising her head, Lisette found herself looking up into the dark eyes of the woman member of the kidnap pair. The person closed the door and raised a finger to her lips, warning silence conspiratorially. Very funny, thought Lisette crossly. This gag doesn’t make much noise! She watched warily as the woman approached, then her eyes widened in recognition. This time the kidnapper was not masked or dressed in a cat suit. Instead she wore a red skirt and matching sweater, both garments setting off to advantage shapely raised breasts and rounded thighs, legs encased in sheer stockings. A red silk scarf tied in cowgirl fashion floated at her throat. With her dark hair, sultry eyes and silver earrings, the woman was every inch a Continental sophisticate.

It’s the maid from that party at Weatherstone Hall, Lolly Tablier!

Mon Dieu, that Hugo ‘e ‘as bound you ver’ tight, Mademoiselle,” said Lolly solicitously as she knelt beside Lisette. “Mais c’est necessaire. Ve must, ‘ow you say, ‘put on a show’ for that ‘orrible chienne et les personnes?”

To Lisette’s complete surprise, Lolly Tablier loosened the gag and let it fall about her shoulders, then with deft fingers the woman picked apart the knot of Lisette’s wrist ties. It took several moments before Lisette could speak. “Wh- why …?” she croaked.

Écoute-moi, I will only say zis once. Zer is no time to lose. Can you walk?”

By now Lolly had freed Lisette’s ankles as she sat massaging her hands ruefully. “I- I think so.”

Eh bien, ve must do zis ver’ quickly, Mademoiselle Ruisseau, before they return to take you away. After that, Hugo et moi cannot ‘elp you.”

“Why are you letting me go?” asked Lisette as she scrambled to her feet.

“It is like that film La Règle du jeu …”

“The rules of the game?” asked Lisette nonplussed.

Mais oui, mam’selle Ruisseau. Hugo Lumière et moi, ve are ‘transporters,’ as you say in English. That is to say, ve move freight ‘no questions asked,’ for different personnes. You ‘ave maybe seen the movie? But when it is the kidnap, there are La Règle. Zer is a ‘kidnapper’s code,’ and in Section (3)(a) the security of the lady kidnapped is très important. Hugo et moi ‘ave decided zat it is your life at risk and, as ve are not ‘into’ ze killing it is nécessaire to free you.”

“I- I see …” Lisette looked towards the door. “I- I can go?”

Mais oui. But first you must bind me. Zey will think that you ‘ave got free and overpowered me.”

Lolly Tablier picked up one of the pieces of rope that had been used to bind Lisette, turned, and presented her hands behind her back. Lisette took the rope from Lolly’s hand and stood for a moment in doubt.

“Are you sure you’ll be all right?”

Parfaitement. Hugo, ‘e will come with the others an’ set me free … Mademoiselle,” continued Lolly as Lisette began to loop the rope about her wrists, “tie me ver’ tight. Make sure that I cannot get free, vraiment.”

“But Lolly, truly I don’t want to hurt you,” Lisette began.

“Pah! It is nothing. It is for ‘alf an hour I will be bound, maybe an hour … Mais ça ne suffit pas. That’s not good enough. You must tie ze rope more tight … Voilà qui est mieux. That’s better! Now my legs. I see you know how to tie ze cinch between. My hands I can’t get free. The same for my legs, s’il vous plaît.”

When Lisette finished tying Lolly Tablier’s ankles firmly together, heeding the advice to cinch them as well, the Frenchwoman tossed her head back, causing her dark hair to sway sensuously across the nape of her neck, and struggled energetically. The bonds held firmly, but the woman was not fully satisfied with Lisette’s work.

“Zer is more rope, là-bas,” Lolly jerked her head in the direction of a corner of the cell, “You must tie around my body so that my arms they are ‘elpless. C’est dramatique! ’Urry. Zer is not much time.”

At the warning Lisette worked more quickly and soon Lolly was securely trussed up. Once again the woman struggled experimentally, her breasts straining against the ropes. After about half a minute she stopped, flushed and breathing hard.

Detail from the DVD cover for the 1955 French filmLes Pépées font la Loi(“The Dolls Make the Law”)

“Zer is more advice, Mademoiselle Ruisseau. When you leave, you will find your friend the très jolie Sunnee Virtue. She ‘as been watching zis lighthouse from ze hill for long time, but I do not think she knows what to do. La bande - les gangsters n’est ce pas? - zey come an’ go. She will be ver’ ‘appy to see you. Aussi les flics, the cops too, zey are watching.”

“Why do you tell me about the police?” asked Lisette.

“Ah, because you are, ‘ow is it said? Independent. You like to think for yourself. You are private detective, eh?”

“That’s true.”

“Well then, I just tell you for you to know … Un moment!” Lolly called as Lisette began to move towards the door, “Maintenant, before you go, mettez le baillon. You must gag me ver’ tight. Ve must convince les gangsters zat you are cold-hearted, impitoyable comme lui-même.”

“But why should I have them think that I’m pitiless like themselves?” asked Lisette.

“Ah, because zey will think twice about le kidnap. Alors, le baillon, vite.”

Lisette used the satin scarf, untying it from around her shoulders, but she made sure that the section of material that went into Lolly’s mouth was not the part she had been drooling into. When the knot was tied, Lisette made it as tight as she felt Lolly could stand. The woman was obviously tough, and probably enjoyed ligotage as well. This gave Lisette some slack and, when she was finished, the thick cloth cut deeply into the woman’s cheeks. The knot was tied a little behind Lolly’s ear over the section of the scarf that was damp, which greatly increased its holding power. It would be very difficult for a rescuer to unpick.

Lisette paused as she was about to close the door. Her eyes held those of Lolly Tablier, wide above the taut gag. “I shan’t forget this, Lolly, thank you,” said Lisette. “I hope we meet again under better circumstances.”

© To be Continued

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