As he told them of the plan he had thrashed out with Ozeki Shimatsu, the wiry, dark haired Carlo Crespi frowned, “It’s risky, but better than bribery. That would leave us open to blackmail for the rest of our lives.”
“I agree,” Dawnelle O’Keefe paced up and down the office, her long red hair shining, “but what I can’t understand is how she got into the file in the first place.”
“Because you screwed up,” Carlo snapped, “it was your job to make sure the file was secure and you blew it.”
Dawnelle turned on him furiously, “Shut up!” she yelled. “You don’t know anything about it, you little jerk. I designed the security system and I know it was unbreakable!”
Carlo shot to his feet, his face white with anger, “Unbreakable, you silly bitch? Then why are we in this mess? This is all your fault, you stupid cow!”
At nearly six feet tall in her high heels, Dawnelle towered five inches over the dark Italian and her face twisted in fury as her right palm described a swift arc to crack against Carlo’s swarthy cheek.
The powerful slap sent the smaller man reeling and Andrew leapt to his feet, coming between his two feuding partners, “Enough!” he shouted. “Sit down, both of you! Sit down! Fighting between ourselves isn’t going to solve anything.”
For a moment, the two glowered at each other, but then each regained control of their anger and took a seat.
“That’s better,” Andrew said, “now, let’s forget about whose fault this is and concentrate on how we’re going to sort it out.”
Slowly, tempers cooled, but it was still a very tense atmosphere as a plan was made to kidnap and freight the two Osborne sisters. Carlo, it was agreed, would arrange transport by container, Dawnelle was to bring two Security staff ones who could be trusted to keep their mouths shut…to the meeting, while Andrew undertook to falsify the paperwork to cover up the girls’ disappearance.
As Dawnelle strode stiffly from the room, refusing to even look at Carlo, the Italian’s eyes glittered with anger.
“She is a bitch, that one,” he muttered under his breath, “but one day, I, Carlo Crespi, will teach her not to slap me!” and his lips twisted in a thin smile as he plotted revenge.
Maxine Osborne stared at her reflection in the long mirror, checking her appearance for about the twentieth time as she prepared for her crucial meeting.
“What do you think, Melissa?” she asked for the third time, “You don’t think this red scarf is too much, do you?”
“You look great. Stop worrying.”
Maxine looked across at her sister and saw a virtual duplicate of herself. They were twins, Maxine the older by four minutes, the two inseparable from birth and their bond strengthened by the death of their parents in a car crash when they were eighteen.
Nearly identical in looks, their characters were distinctly different. Where Maxine was reserved, hard-working and serious, Melissa was high-spirited and outgoing, a lover of partying and dances, acquiring and then dropping boyfriends without a care while her sister was more discerning.
Both had had lovers, Maxine rather fewer, but had always managed to avoid entanglements with their sibling’s partners and the inevitable difficulties that would have caused and were completely at ease with each other.
Maxine looked at her reflection again, examining the tailored navy blue suit which adorned her well proportioned figure, the gleaming white blouse hugging her firm breasts, the ruffled scarlet scarf at her throat and the black stockings and mid-heeled shoes beneath the skirt which ended a demure two inches above her knees.
“Yes, you’re right,” she agreed finally, “it’s fine.”
“Told you,” Melissa said casually, “you’ll knock them dead. What about me, then? Will they like this down at the Club, do you think?”
Melissa looked at the tight white sweater emphasising the thrusting globes of her sister’s bra-less breasts, then lowered her gaze to the skin tight black leather micro-skirt and high heeled thigh boots she wore.
“I should imagine it’ll be a riot,” she smiled ruefully, “how do you get away with it, Melissa? I wouldn’t dare go out in public dressed like that.”
“It turns the guys on,” Melissa chuckled, “I haven’t had to buy myself a drink for months.”
“I bet you haven’t. But what do you do if they get, you know, pushy?”
“I can look after myself,” Melissa replied confidently. “A guy only gets what I want to give him. I’m the one in charge, not them and that’s the way I keep it.”
Maxine shook her head, smiling, “Oh well, fair enough, as long as it stays that way.”
“It will. I know what I’m doing. Come on, sis, time we were going.”
As she drove towards Shimatsu Electronics, Maxine said, “Shall I drop you off at the Club, Melissa?”
But her sister shook her head, “No. It’s too early, yet. I’ll wait in the car until you’re finished and you can drop me off then.”
“Are you sure? I might be a long time, you know.”
“That’s all right. If I get bored, I’ll find a taxi.
“OK. No problem.”
The huge building was in darkness apart from the top floor and as Maxine entered her access code on the panel set into the armrest of her car’s door and the high double gates swung open, she pointed upwards, “That’s where my meeting is. If it goes well, it could change my whole life. I could really go places.”
Maxine was quite right but not in the way she fondly imagined!
She drove around to the back of the building and parked, then got out and straightened her skirt, “Wish me luck,” she said.
Melissa smiled, “Good luck,” then settled back in her seat and turned the radio on as her sister walked away.
Riding up in the lift, Maxine took a deep breath, “This is it,” she murmured, “I’m on my way.” As she stepped out and walked to the polished doors, she gripped her notes and evidence firmly in her right hand.
The doors swung open to her knock and she walked in.
The Boardroom was vast, a fifty-seat conference table stretching before her and at the far end; three people sat waiting as two burly, uniformed Security Guards escorted her towards them.
“Good evening, Miss Osborne.”
“Good evening, sir,” she replied to Andrew Morrison, the only one she recognised.
“Sit down, please. This is Ms. O’Keefe and Mr. Crespi, two of my senior Directors.” The two Directors didn’t smile and Maxine grew a little nervous as she took her seat.
“May we see your evidence, please?” Morrison asked and Maxine handed it over.
As the papers were passed around, the faces of the three Directors darkened, “Is this everything you have?” Crespi snapped suddenly.
“Yes, sir,” Maxine answered, “as you can see, it’s quite clear cut.”
“Yes, it is,” Ms. O’Keefe confirmed, “Who else knows about this?”
“No one, madam. Just us.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course. Just the four of us.”
“Excellent!” Morrison nodded meaningfully, and then snapped his fingers. “Now!”
The two Security Guards reacted like lightning, each seizing one of Maxine’s arms and twisting her slim wrists behind her back, forcing her to bend forward in her seat.
Taken completely by surprise, Maxine had no chance to resist and before she knew what was happening, a pair of handcuffs was locked tightly on her wrists.
Recovering her wits, Maxine cried, “What are you doing? Stop! Let me go!” but the men ignored her and snapped a second pair of cuffs about her ankles, securing her before she could begin to fight.
“What’s happening? Take these things off me!” Maxine wrenched and kicked in her efforts to free herself, but the steel circlets were locked and much too strong for her to break, digging into her soft skin as she fought in vain.
“Don’t be stupid,” the redheaded woman sneered, “you can’t get out of those so you might as well shut up and listen while we tell you what we’re going to do with you.”
The cold contempt in the woman’s voice sent a horrible chill through Maxine and she redoubled her efforts to escape. “Help!” she yelled at the top of her voice, “Help me somebody! Call the Police!”
A hard hand clamped over her lips, thumb and fingers digging into her cheeks, so that her screams died to whimpers of pain.
“Much better,” the speaker was Morrison and Maxine stared wildly at him as he smiled cruelly, “if you continue to scream, you will be gagged, but if you’re sensible and keep the noise down, you won’t be. So, are you going to be sensible?”
Maxine trembled in despair as his eyes stared at her, and then managed a small nod.
He nodded at the man squeezing her cheeks and his grip slackened.
“Wh-What are you doing?” Maxine groaned. “Why have you tied me up? What have I done? Let me go. Please?”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” Morrison replied calmly, “you see, you have caused us something of a problem and we can’t afford to let you go.”
“But why? What have I done?” She stared at the three people before her, “You have to let me go. You can’t do this to me.”
“Oh, but we can,” Dawnelle O’Keefe said spitefully, “you shouldn’t have been so damned nosy and now you’re going to find out what happens to people who mess with us.” As the redhead glared at her, Maxine shivered, suddenly realising what was going on.
“You’re all in on it,” she said slowly, “you’re the ones working the fraud!”
“Congratulations,” Dawnelle sneered, “finally worked it out, have you? Yes, that’s right. We’ve got a nice profitable little scheme going here and we don’t intend to let you louse it up.”
Maxine’s blue eyes opened wide and she stammered, “Wh-What are you g-going to d-do with me?”
Carlo Crespi chuckled, “We’re going to send you on a little trip,” he grinned, “Air freight! Somewhere where what you know won’t hurt us.”
“It’s all arranged,” Dawnelle told the frightened captive, “you’ll be going tonight and you won’t be coming back!”
“No!” Maxine screamed and fought madly against the steel cuffs binding her limbs, “You can’t! Please, no! Let me go! I won’t say anything, I promise! I won’t tell anybody about the fraud!”
“No, you won’t,” Dawnelle was thoroughly enjoying Maxine’s horror, “not anybody who’ll take any notice.”
“Gag her,” Andrew ordered and Maxine’s eyes bulged in terror as one of the Security Guards produced a roll of wide, black industrial tape and moved towards her.
“Stop!” she cried, “Please!” Then she remembered Melissa.
“You won’t get away with this,” she said desperately, “I didn’t come here alone! My sister’s down in the car and she knows I came here. If you don’t let me go, she’ll go to the Police and you’ll all be arrested!”
Her last-ditch effort to avoid being gagged failed and as one Guard held her head still, the other lifted her hair out of the way and wrapped half a dozen turns of the adhesive tape right around her head, compressing her cheeks, sealing her lips and hiding the lower half of her face.
Maxine whined in futile protest, but could not speak at all and her terror grew as she learned their power over her. Handcuffed at wrists and ankles and now gagged as well, she could do nothing to help herself and her mind reeled to the awful knowledge that she could not prevent them from putting her in a freight container and carrying out their plan.
Melissa was her only hope and she could only pray that her sister would call the Police in time to save her.
To her sheer, stark terror, Maxine heard Andrew Morrison give orders to the two Guards, “Her sister is waiting in the car park. Go down and tell her that her sister wants to talk to her up here. As soon as she’s safely inside the building, cuff her and gag her then come back up to fetch this one.”
The two men nodded and hurried out and Morrison turned to Maxine, “Bringing your sister here was an unexpected bonus for us. She was the only one who would have missed you and raised the alarm. We assumed you’d be alone and that we’d have to go and fetch her from your house. It gives us lots more time.”
Maxine whimpered in anguish, realising how carefully the plan had been laid. Unknowingly, she had played right into their hands. Melissa would have no reason to be suspicious and once she was captured and tied up, there would be no one to rescue either of them. They would both simply disappear!
Stunned by what had already happened, it had not occurred to Maxine to wonder where she and her sister were going to be sent or what was to be done with them when they reached their destination. That thought was remedied in the most terrifying way as Carlo Crespi suggested a way to pass the time gained by not having to search for Melissa. “She is a pretty girl, isn’t she?” he murmured softly. “And as she’s going to become a slave on Mr. Shimatsu’s island anyway, I would like to see more of her.”