Food and sex.
Linda Fong tried to remember if she'd ever known a man whose interests extended past those two things.
"Fuckin' A! Run, you motherfucker! RUN!!"
Oh, yes. Football.
And the sounds never changed. The juvenile cursing, the clatter of beer cans...
"Linda, babe, how 'bout s'more beer? I knocked--"
I know, I know, she thought. You knocked over a half-empty can, adding to the lovely two-tone look of your carpet. Aloud, she just said, "Coming, Ken," and headed for the refrigerator. Opening the door, she realized that the quantity of beer remaining in the 'fridge might last Ken and his friends for one full quarter of football, but it wasn't even halftime, yet. And why the hell was it her job to make sure there was enough on hand? She didn't even drink the damn stuff.
"Ken, I better make a run to the market," Linda carried a cold can into the living room, "unless, of course, one of you guys wants to..." Ken's look suggested she might as well be speaking Martian, so she sighed, and handed him the can. "OK, I'll go." On the giant TV screen, three swimsuit models were hoisting beer glasses as though they needed the calories. Linda looked at Ken and his friends, and wished she had one of those devices that eye doctors used to measure pupil dilation.
"Ken, can I talk to you for a second?" Linda stood by the doorway. She watched as the image on the TV changed from swimsuit models to snow tires, at which point her boyfriend looked up at her.
Linda smiled, and beckoned him to come to her. With a roll of his eyes and a tremendous sigh, Ken got up and came to stand in the hall with her.
"Yeah?" The face of an angel, and the disposition of a sloth. How on earth do I find 'em?, Linda asked herself.
"There's another game on TV tonight, right?"
"Yeah. And?" Stretching his vocabulary this time.
"Well..." Linda leaned close, and gently grasped the front of his shirt. "You know, I have that TV in my bedroom. I was thinking," she lay her head against his chest, hoping it would be easier not to look him in the eyes; hoping, too, that the light shining off her hair would hold his attention from the TV for a minute or so, "I could fix us a little supper, some wine, and we could watch the game in bed. And, after the game, well, who knows?" She looked up at Ken. He moved his hands along her arms, his touch making her gooey, as always.
"Linda," his blue eyes were deeply serious, "that TV only has a 13-inch screen."
Linda slammed the door to the apartment closed behind her, with a tremendous bang. Food and sex? Where the HELL did she ever get the idea that men were interested in sex?
At the market, Linda pushed her cart slowly down the refrigerated aisle. She took a glance at herself in the reflective door of the case. Was it something about her? Was she not what men like Ken, and... she choked back a sob... David were looking for? The reflection she saw was of a trim Oriental woman in her early 30's. She was dressed in her favorite weekend clothes: a plain white blouse tucked into faded blue jeans. Too drab? But it emphasized the contours of her well-exercised figure so well. Not like a beer-model swimsuit, of course, she grumbled to herself. Her face? She bent closer to the glass door, trying to see the flaw in the caramel skin that kept her from enticing a man away from the TV set: maybe a line or two she hadn't had in college, but even to her own critical eye, she thought her face was still in great shape. She moved her head, watching the flourescent light play over her hair: dark brown, burnished with highlights of red and gold, it hung to her waist in a glossy curtain. My best feature, she thought to herself, and I get more compliments from other women than I've ever got from Ken. She was trying to remember if, in fact, Ken had ever actually complimented her hair, when she came to a stop in front of a beer display.
Mounted on a pedestal, in the center of a stack of cases of beer, was a huge television screen, with a VCR showing an assortment of swimsuit model beer commercials. The commercial which was just ending showed the trio, one blonde, one brunette, and one redhead (had the ad agency even considered a black or Asian model?, Linda wondered), pretending to drink beer as they pretended to ride surfboards on a pretend ocean.
After a moment of hissing, the next image appeared on the TV. This set was an interior, a large family room, with a deep pile carpet on the floor. The lighting was dimmer than the cartoony brightness that beer commercials usually favored. The camera entered through the door of the room, and came to rest on a view of a narrow-backed chair in the center. Seated in the chair was the brunette swimsuit model. Her hands were out of the picture, her arms being wrapped around the back of the chair. Her figure was straining the top of her swimsuit even more than usual, because she was being forced to sit in an unusually upright position by the coils of white rope which encircled her body, cutting into her bare arms and creasing the lycra swimsuit. Ropes fastened her ankles to the rung of the chair, and her legs had been tied together. Her red lips were parted, as they often were in beer commercials, but not in their usual lascivious pout. Instead, her mouth was stretched wide by an enormous wad of cloth that was stuffed deep between her teeth, and tied tightly around her shining hair by a thin dishcloth.
After traveling the length of the brunette's body, the camera panned downwards. As it moved across the floor, it followed a stream of blond hair that tumbled across the pile of the carpet. The blonde lay on her stomach, with her head to one side, lips obscured by a large strip of silver duct tape, eyes wide in fright, breathing heavily through her nose. The long, tanned legs that had pretended to balance on a surfboard in the previous commercial had been pulled up behind her back, her arms bound to her sides with rope, her wrists tied to her ankles.
The soundtrack of the commercial eschewed the usual recycled oldies, and was instead composed of a mixture of muffled hums and moans.
The next shot was of a fist clenching a handful of red hair. Pulling back, the camera showed the trembling body of the third swimsuit model (now sans swimsuit), bound tightly, and having some sort of sexual appliance forced into her mouth. As the camera finally pulled back far enough to take in the whole room, it was possible to see that it was Linda Fong who stood over the cringing, drooling redhead, laughing maniacally, tormenting her.
"Excuse me." It seemed an odd sort of thing for a woman to say as a dildo was being shoved into her mouth.
"Excuse me, ma'am, could you move your basket, please?"
Linda blinked. Her head jerked around, and she saw a young couple waiting for her to step away from the beer display.
"Oh. Sorry." Scooting her cart aside, Linda suddenly realized that these people could SEE her on the television; they could SEE her engaged in the most disgusting and depraved... She flushed, and returned her panicked gaze to the TV set. The swimsuit models were now cavorting in the back of a red convertible. A poor man's James Brown sang on the soundtrack. Linda looked at the young couple: the man was regarding the TV with casual interest as the girl filled the cart. Nothing in their faces suggested that they had just seen the kinkiest beer commercial in history.
Oh, God. Not again. Linda's fingers dropped nervelessly from the handle of her cart, and she ran outside to her car. Locking the door behind her, she closed her eyes, hid her face in her hands, and braced herself for the memory to return.
It had been a year ago. Linda's husband, David, had engaged some thieves to fake a jewel robbery in their home, and, incidentally, kidnap Rachel, the boss he hated. Roz, a co-worker he'd been seeing behind Linda's back, also pretended to be a victim, and David had expected the thieves to dispose of his inconvenient wife and her best friend, Lauren Tate. In a day of nightmares, Linda had been forced to help tie up the other women, had herself been tied up, gagged, and sexually assualted and humiliated. Only Lauren's resourcefulness in escaping and bringing the police had saved them. To save his skin, David had attempted to betray Roz, and she had shot him dead. Before the thieves made their escape, they had threatened Linda that they would come back to have their revenge on the two friends.
No, Linda told herself, "revenge" was over-simplifying things. In fact, the leader of the thieves, a stylish blonde named Antonia Andrews, had found it sexually gratifying to molest Linda's bound and helpless body, to humiliate and degrade her. Antonia's partner, Michelle, certainly wanted to pay Lauren back for the crack on the head she'd given Michelle when she escaped, but Antonia's feelings about Linda had been much more complex than that. She was definitely physically attracted to Linda; Antonia's passion for Linda might be cruel and perverted, but it was more passion than David or Ken had ever shown. As for Linda's own feelings, sorting out that mixture of guilt, terror, shame, and pure physical lust still eluded her. She had hoped that never seeing the two thieves again would allow her to duck that question. It was becoming clear, though, that it was not going to be that simple.
As she entered the apartment, the steady red light by the phone almost made her start crying. No blinking light. No messages. No Ken. He hadn't even bothered to call when she didn't come back. Oh, Christ, she thought, no more crying. That day a year ago, she had cried a lifetime's worth of tears, and compared to what she had endured then, the lack of a phone call from Ken was pretty damned insignificant.
Linda continued to stare at the phone. Something about the phone... there was a phone call she ought to make. An idea was rattling around in the back of her head, just out of reach. Someone she had thought about calling...
Well, she thought, picking up the receiver, when in doubt, who ya gonna call?
"Hi, Lauren, it's me."
"Hey, Lin, howya doin'? Isn't there a game on TV right now? Did Ken let you off for good behavior?" Anyone else bringing his name up right now would have had the phone slammed down in their ear.
"No, I just..." just what? What could she say? Well, Lauren, I was in the market when I imagined that I was in a beer commercial, torturing swimsuit models. Whenever that happens, I usually just come home. "I felt sort of tired."
"So, are you at home now?"
"One word: pizza. I'll be over at six. Are you too tired to watch a video?"
"No," Linda smiled. "That sounds great. Anything special you'd like to see?"
"Nope. Surprise me. Later!"
Hanging up the phone, Linda asked herself, for the thousandth time, how she'd have survived that terrible day without Lauren. It wasn't just that Lauren had escaped to get the police. When Linda was forced to tie and gag the other victims, her fear and guilt had threatened to overwhelm her; Lauren's calm resolve had been so reassuring that the only "good" memory she still kept was the curious one of tying and gagging her best friend. Maybe she had needed that bit of role reversal: Linda always leaned on Lauren, counting on her to get them through tough times and sticky situations. That day, for the first time, Linda had been the one in control, as Lauren lay helpless on the floor, trussed like a turkey, her mouth stuffed with a sponge and plastered with duct tape. And there it was again: instead of repressing these details, Linda was reliving them: Lauren wasn't simply tied, Antonia had taught Linda that she had "hogtied" her friend. The details of gagging the others had receded into her subconscious, but the sight of that sponge disappearing into Lauren's mouth, and Antonia's fingers taping Lauren's lips, was as vivid as if it had happened just today. And Lauren, bless her, would gladly have tried to help her put that day behind her, but Linda couldn't bring herself to talk about it.
Three o'clock. Enough time for a check of the 'fridge, a quick nap, and a shower.
Wine, check. Bagged salad, check. Ice cream, check. Walking past the VCR on her way to the bedroom, she remembered that she wanted to choose a video for the evening.
Linda was casting a glance over the assortment of familiar classics and "date" movies, when something caught her eye: an unopened video, still in its shrink wrap.
Of course. She'd been waiting in line at K-Mart, a few months ago, when it had caught her eye. An impulse purchase, but how to explain the impulse? Linda giggled self-consciously to herself. Quickly, she opened the package before she had time to change her mind. She popped the tape into the VCR, stopped the Auto Play feature, and stashed the box behind a copy of My Best Friend's Wedding.
In the bedroom, Linda reset her alarm for 5:00 pm, stretched out, and closed her eyes. She was asleep in moments.
At the sound of a knock at the front door, Linda got up from her bed. Glancing out the window, she saw Lauren's Jetta parked in front of the building, and hurried to answer the knock. The door swung open, and there was her best friend in the world, Lauren Tate.
Lauren was naked. Or nearly so. The ropes which bound her wrists behind her back, and her arms to her sides, were applied so heavily that she almost seemed to be wearing a sweatshirt of white clothesline. The fine white teeth in her tanned face always attracted attention; all the more so now, as they were clenched around a red rubber ball which filled her mouth, and was fastened by a strap behind her head.
The helplessly bound and gagged Lauren stumbled into the room after being pushed from behind by a large, slender hand, the color of fine mahogany.
"Company's here." Michelle Russell grinned at the goggling Linda. The black woman kicked Lauren to her knees, and stepped into the apartment.
Standing behind Michelle in the doorway, was an attractive blonde in a tailored designer suit, hair in a neat bun, and a wicked smile on her face.
"Linda! Honey!" Antonia Andrews stepped inside, and closed the door behind her. "Told ya I'd be back."
Linda's courage cracked. She spun on her heel, and flew across the apartment to the bedroom. She tried to slam the door closed behind her, but Michelle caught it on her shoulder, and it sprang back open, knocking Linda to the floor. She scrambled up, to get to the phone, but a wrenching pain in her scalp stopped her in her tracks.
"You really do have beautiful hair, Linda." Antonia used Linda's hair to throw her on the bed. As the terrified woman tried to free herself from the painful grip in her hair, Michelle had gone to the clothes hamper and came over to the bed with a fistful of Linda's dirty underwear. With her head helplessly imprisoned, Linda was unable to resist as two pairs of her used panties were stuffed into her mouth, nearly choking her. Antonia released her hair, but before she could attempt to clear her mouth, Michelle had taken a scarf from her dresser, pulled it between her teeth, and tied it around her head to hold the underwear in place. She yanked hard on the scarf, digging it fiercely into the corners of Linda's mouth, and knotting it with brutal tightness around her head. As Linda moaned and shrieked uselessly through her gag, she felt Antonia pull her arms behind her, and use a nylon stocking to bind her wrists together. Michelle used another to similarly imprison her ankles.
"Did you think we wouldn't find you? It was only a matter of time." Lying face-down on her bed, Linda dampened the bedspread with her tears, as Antonia and Michelle laughed. From behind her came the "snick" sound of Michelle's switchblade opening, and Linda felt the cold steel pressed to her throat. With all the breath left in her lungs, Linda screamed through the gag, over and over, a choked, sobbing wail, that mingled with a piercing, repeated, beeping sound.
Linda's eyes opened. She was lying face down on her bed, and was biting a chunk of bedspread in her teeth; the bed was soaked with sweat, saliva, and tears. After a moment, her mind cleared enough to fling out a hand, and smash the beeping alarm clock to the floor.
Five o'clock. Time to get up. Lauren would be here with the pizza soon. Linda lay back, staring up at the ceiling, whimpering. What the hell was she going to do? This couldn't go on. Somehow, she had to come to terms with what had happened to her. Well, Linda, she told yourself, you're going to try and do just that tonight, aren't you? That is, if you don't chicken out.
It was nearly a half-hour before Linda came out of the shower. She had lost herself in the steam, blanking her mind, and letting the hot spray scald her body pleasantly. On her way to the bedroom, she had stopped in the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine, sipping from it as she sat before her mirror, brushing out her hair. That's right, she thought grimly, Ken may never have complimented my hair, but Antonia certainly did.
When the knock on the door came, Linda almost jumped out of her chair. She laid the brush down, gulped the last of her wine, and got up to look out the bedroom window. There was Lauren's Jetta, at the curb. Linda shivered. When the knock came again, she went into the living room, but only stared at the door. It had only been a dream, she reminded herself. A dream. A dream that had begun with her opening this door to let Lauren in.
She opened the door.Chapter Two
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