By what twisted logic, Kat wondered ruefully, did every two-bit villain or villainess feel it was necessary to strip a girl down to her unmentionables every time they wanted to tie her up? It had to be some kind of fetish thing. Of course, the exposure did leave one feeling more vulnerable. Certainly she and Jill were more vulnerable to the depredations of sun and insect without their clothes. Jill’s lingerie was properly white and typically British in its simplicity, while Kat wore her usual accouterments of black lace with red accents. Most surprising, at least to Kat and Jill, was Alison’s shockingly brief bra and panties of scarlet silk. And you think you know everything about your friends, Kat mused.
A muffled squeal from Alison drew her attention back to the blond woman’s predicament. Kat had allowed her legs to relax slightly, causing her friend to drop several inches closer to the hissing vipers. Giving the dangling blonde an apologetic look, Kat drew her legs in close again, pulling Alison back up just as one of the snakes took an ineffectual swipe at her legs.
This couldn’t go on for very long, Kat knew. Already she was beginning to feel fatigued from the constant strain. She was sure that Jill must be feeling the same. Somehow they had to get free before their strength gave out and poor Alison dropped into the pit of fer-de-lances. It would be a good idea to get free before the army ants started their daily foraging, too. Kat wasn’t fond of insects at the best of times, least of all when she wasn’t even able to swat at them.
As if in response to her unspoken thoughts, the dark-haired adventuress felt the unpleasant spidery tickling of tiny feet along her collarbone. Mashing her chin downward, she saw several dark red ants about half an inch long making their way along the lines of honey that had trickled down into her cleavage. “Oooogh!” she squealed into her gag, involuntarily squirming and twisting in a vain effort to throw them off. Her efforts were rewarded by a vicious stabbing pain as one of the ants made its displeasure known, sinking its powerful jaws into the soft skin of her breast. “Urk!”
More of the investigative little creatures began to make their way out of the half-rotted trunk and onto her body. Kat forced herself to remain still, knowing that her struggles would only result in more bites. The sensation of the nasty bugs crawling over her skin made her want to scream. Fighting to stay calm, knowing that if she gave in to panic not only would she doom herself, but her friends as well, the daring treasure-hunter sought for some way out of her perilous situation.
At first glance it seemed pretty hopeless. She lay back against the thick bole of the fallen tree, her hands tied together and pulled up and back over the top of the trunk, and fastened to something on the other side. More ropes wrapped and knotted around her waist anchored her body securely to the tree, which was much too heavy for her to move. Looking over to where Jill sat struggling in her bonds, it seemed the Interpol agent was trussed up just as tightly as she. Alison wasn’t tied directly to a tree trunk, but dangling hogtied in mid-air wasn’t exactly conducive to gaining one’s freedom. Besides, Kat admitted to herself, of the three of them the blond computer expert probably had the least experience with being tied up and getting free on her own.
Another of the pesky ants bit her, this time on the thigh. Kat’s legs jerked in response, earning her yet another bite and jostling Alison, so that the dangling girl swung helplessly at the end of her tethering ropes. “Mmmph!” the blonde gave her an admonishing grunt.
Kat tried to keep her legs still, even as more ants began to swarm over her lightly-tanned thighs and stomach. Something jerked at her tied ankles, though, and she looked up to see Alison swaying again, this time in response to Jill’s pulling on the ropes. Oddly enough, there didn’t seem to be any ants bothering the British woman, yet she was jerking her legs back and forth, making Alison sway as well. Jill caught Kat’s eye, and jerked her head sideways. “Fwing er!” Jill mumbled urgently, kicking harder with her feet. “Fwing er, ack n urf!”
For several moments Kat stared at her redhaired friend, not understanding what she meant. Alison squawked and squealed, swinging back and forth in an increasing arc, her knees almost touching the edges of the pit. Watching her swing like a pendulum, Kat felt sorry for her, thinking of the snakes writhing in the pit beneath her.
Swinging like a pendulum . . . ah! That’s what Jill’s trying to do!
Kicking her feet sideways, first right and then left, Kat tried to imitate the movement of Jill’s legs. Between the two of them, they started their dangling girlfriend swinging even further back and forth, till her arcing path carried her beyond the edges of the snake-filled hole in the ground. Finally catching on to what they were trying to do, Alison began jerking her hips and knees, pumping her legs as well as she could with her feet tethered up behind her. Like a child on a swing, she tried to heave herself higher and further on each forward leg of her arc.
The timing would be crucial if the plan was to work. Grunting and winking furiously, Kat caught Jill’s eye. “Omph fwee,” she mumbled. “Omph fwee!”
Jill cocked her head to one side, then nodded in understanding. “Omph fwee,” she grunted.
The two of them kicked in unison with Alison’s efforts, sending her swinging back and forth in a wider and wider arc. The tree limbs over which the ropes were slung creaked and swayed, bits of bark drifting down to the jungle floor. “Omph!” Kat mumbled sharply. “Oo! Fwee!”
On “fwee”—or “three,” as it were—Kat and Jill released the tension in their legs at the same time. The sudden slack in the ropes, when she was at the top of her arc, allowed Alison to drop down, thumping to the ground several inches from the edge of the pit. A few stray pebbles fell in, startling the snakes into a fresh frenzy of hissing and writhing. Panting hard through her nose she lay on her side still tied and gagged, but momentarily safe.
With Alison no longer dangling and a dead weight, however, Kat and Jill found themselves with a bit of slack, no longer being forced to strain against the ropes binding them to the fallen trees. It was only a few inches of leeway, but for someone with Kat’s suppleness, strength, and determination, it was enough. Digging the heels of her bare feet into the soft jungle soil, she thrust herself back against the tree trunk, wincing as the half-rotted bark dug into the unprotected skin of her back. Her movements sent hoards of ants pouring out from their nest, but she ignored them as well as she could, intent on gaining even a single more inch of movement.
Seeing what she was doing, Jill and Alison did the best they could to help. Jill extended her legs as far as she could, giving Alison the slack she needed to squirm and wriggle closer to Kat’s side of the pit. This gave Jill a few more precious inches to work with. The very rottenness of the tree trunk came to Kat’s aid as well, the spongy wood giving way beneath her as she struggled. C’mon, c’mon, just a little bit further—ah! Her desperately-stretching fingers finally found their way to where the rope tethering her hands was knotted around a stubby broken branch. She clawed at the tight knots with both hands, struggling frantically to loosen them. Her body twitched and jerked under the assault of the disturbed ants, but she didn’t let that distract her. The ant bites were an annoyance; the snakes, should they make their way out of the pit, would be deadly.
After what seemed like hours, she finally felt one of the knots loosen. Her instinctive response was to hasten her efforts, but she forced herself to keep her movements careful and deliberate, knowing that if she pulled or tugged the wrong way she could lose everything she’d gained. Kat eased the end of the rope back through the loops of the knots, one after the other. How many knots did that crazy French witch use? she wondered. Ouch! Damn these ants! I don’t know how much longer I can . . . oh, yeah baby! She gave a muffled but exultant cry as the last knot came loose, freeing her hands from the broken branch. At last, at last . . . !
“I’ll never forget seeing you dancing up and down screaming, “Get them off, get them off, get them off!” Alison giggled. “I never knew you were so freaked out about bugs, Kat.”
“Easy for you to say,” Kat retorted with a shudder. “Ugh, I can still feel those nasty little things crawling all over me. I thought I’d never get them out of my hair, and those bites itched like crazy. The two of you got off easy.”
“Hey, I had quite a few bites myself,” Jill objected. “It wasn’t just you facing those ants, love. And let’s not forget poor Allie dangling over those bloody snakes.”
“All right, all right,” Kat agreed, “we all had a hard time. It turned out for the best, however, thanks to Allie’s computer skills.”
Alison shrugged. “It was easy enough to upload the map to my home system, and substitute a fake file. I wish I could have seen their faces when they found out where that map led them. Now, what can we do to get back at those two?”
“We know they must be heading for the Museum de Madrid,” Jill pointed out. “That crooked curator was going to pay her for the Star of Zanubia. I doubt such an exchange is going to take place through regular channels.”
“Has this curator made other illicit purchases?” Alison asked.
“Certainly, love. She’s rather notorious in the trading of illegally-obtained art and artifacts.”
“If you give me a list of some of the other items she’s obtained, I can do a data search and find some electronic footprints for us to chase down.” As always, Alison’s excitement blossomed at the challenge to her cybernetic skills.
Kat nodded. “Sounds like a good start, Allie. In the meantime, I’ll begin making our travel arrangements. Jill?”
The British woman smiled brightly. “I’ll contact my usual sources and see what I can find.” She raised her glass, and was joined by the other two. “Tally ho, ladies! The game’s afoot!”
While the three women clinked their classes and talked excitedly together, they failed to notice the rather unusual appearance of one of the flowers in the vase on their table. Unlike the other daisies in the flask, this one was artificial, its round center a metallic grill covered with a disk of cloth the same color as the centers of the real flowers. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the VIP lounge, a lone woman sat at a corner table, her back to the rest of the room. An almost-untouched Martini sat next to her, and she was scribbling rapidly on a yellow legal pad. If one looked closely enough, the thin wires from a set of earphones she wore could be seen running down to a small black box on the table. It looked much like an MP3 player, but it was actually a different sort of device entirely.
A smile tugged at the corners of Jessica Drew’s mouth as she noted down the remarks of Kat and her friends. “So, the game’s afoot, is it?” the beautiful young attorney murmured, adjusting the volume control on the wireless recorder. “But who’s the hunter and who’s the hunted, eh? Y’all should have learned your lessons by now, ladies. Ah wonder how much Dominique an’ her buddies will pay me for this little tidbit of information, hmm? A gal can always use another few thousand dollars for a rainy day!”
Even for someone with Alison’s expertise, it took several days to trace the cybernetic footprints left behind by Dominique and her partners in crime. When Alison lost the trail, Jill’s informants provided enough information for her to pick it up again. Eventually the three adventuresses found themselves on board a chartered jet arranged by Kat, heading for a small airfield in the south of Spain.
“It figures their contact at the museum wouldn’t want to meet in Madrid proper,” Kat explained, spreading a map across a small table between their seats. “From what we’ve been able to find out, then, the curator likes to do business at a small warehouse in the port city of Malaga.”
“I went to Malaga for a vacation last summer,” Alison commented. “They’ve got a terrific nude beach at the southwest end of the coast.”
The other two looked at her with raised eyebrows. “What? What?” she asked.
Kat shook her head. “Never mind. The one bit of information we don’t have is exactly when the deal for the Star is due to go down. Jill, do you have any contacts in the city that could help us out?”
“Leave it to me,” the Interpol agent said airily. “My people will not only find out when the meeting will take place, but what the participants will be wearing and what they had for breakfast. Just wait and see.”
Jill was as good as her word. A couple of hours after they arrived at their beachfront hotel, she reported back to her friends. “We’re in luck, girls. The deal’s going down at midnight tonight, which gives us the rest of the day to soak up the sun and enjoy these lovely Spanish beaches!”
“Sounds good to me,” Kat replied. “Just give me a minute to finish working on my nails, okay? I want to get them just right.”
A short time later the three friends gathered together on the shimmering white sands of one of Malaga’s finest beaches. Kat was clad in one of her favorite barely-there bikinis, this one consisting of four tiny triangles of black silk connected by thin strings. In contrast, Jill wore a somewhat less revealing one-piece suit of white that left her right shoulder bare and had an oval-shaped cutout in front that showed her trim stomach and the inner curves of her breasts. Alison had originally wanted to go topless, but was prevailed upon by her companions to dress a little more modestly. Her choice was a suit of metallic blue that was technically a one-piece outfit, consisting of a tiny blue triangle that barely covered her pelvic region and a pair of inch-wide straps that went up over her breasts and on up over her shoulders, to come together into a single strap that ran down her back again.
“One of these days Alison you and I are going to have a serious talk,” Kat said as they walked together along the beach. “Whatever happened to that shy little mouse I used to know in college?”
“I was never that ‘shy little mouse,’” Alison retorted. “I just don’t have the boobs or the hips that you do, so I’ve got to show off what I’ve got, that’s all.”
“But really, love, it’s a bit much,” Jill chimed in. “I mean, what’s holding those straps in place, prayer?”
The three friends bantered away the afternoon, indulging from time to time in glasses of the local sangria and sampling tapas from various beachside restaurants. For a time they lay out on the sand together, taking the opportunity now and again to splash and play in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, enjoying the occasional admiring glance—from individuals of both genders, to Jill’s amusement and Alison’s and Kat’s embarrassment. Finally, as the sun began to sink towards the horizon, they elected to return to their hotel and rest up before the midnight excursion.
“Ah, that was a great day,” Alison sighed, leaning against the wall while she brushed the sand from her bare feet. “Why don’t we do this kind of thing more often?”
“Because we’re always chasing after missing books, maps, or jewels, I suppose,” Kat answered. She pushed the call button for the elevator again. “Man, this thing is slow.”
Alison switched legs and began brushing off her other foot. “You’re the one who always wants to stay on the highest floor possible. Tall hotels mean longer elevator waits. Ah, here it is.”
The elevator arrived with a soft chiming sound, and the three of them stepped inside. Just as the doors began to slide closed, someone called, “Hold the lift, please!”
Alison pushed the ‘doors open’ button, and when the doors slid obediently apart two other women crowded in quickly. Clad in the ubiquitous white cotton robes from the hotel and both wearing big floppy straw hats and oversized sunglasses, they looked so much like prototypical tourists that Kat had to stifle a laugh. The fact that they both carried huge colorful tote bags made them look even more ludicrous.
“Hey, what’s the matter with this thing?” Alison said suddenly, jabbing repeatedly at the buttons on the control panel. “We’re going down instead of up.”
“You pressed the wrong button again, love,” Jill said dismissively.
“No I didn’t!” Alison exclaimed indignantly. “Look, the only button that’s lit is for the 20th floor, but we’re still going down.”
A laugh came from one of the women in the floppy hats. The two of them turned around, and Kat gaped at the sight of two small but very deadly-looking automatic pistols trained on her and her friends. “The little blond one, she is so observant, n’est pas?” the woman on the left remarked, with another musical laugh. She swept off her oversized hat and sunglasses, revealing the auburn tresses and familiar visage of Dominique Chandeaux. “Bon soir, ma petites! It is as you say, ‘the game is afoot,’ no? Only Titania and I are the hounds, and you are the little foxes who have fallen into our net.” The smile on her face hardened and she gestured abruptly with her pistol. “You will all please place your hands to the backs of your necks and interlace your fingers. While it would pain me to have to shoot you rather than construct a more elaborate means of your disposal, rest assured I have no reservations against doing so.”
girlfriends glanced at each other, then reluctantly and obediently assumed the
position demanded by their captoress.
Not good, Kat thought glumly,
noting the substantial-looking coils of rope peeking out from the tops of the
two colorful tote bags. Not good at all.
Not good, Kat thought glumly, noting the substantial-looking coils of rope peeking out from the tops of the two colorful tote bags. Not good at all.
To Be Continued...