spellbinding tales of virtual adventure

It was a cold, inner city night. The kind of night where the dozen steps from a cozy taxi to a warm gin-joint seemed like an eternity. The kind of night where even the lowlifes and bottom feeders scrambled for a nice, toasty rock to crawl under. Tall brick tenements loomed above the streets, damp with a gray, chilling fog – a fog that had almost decided it was worth the effort to turn into ice. Dark shop windows kept a silent vigil, the possible shelter of their equally dark doorways denied by faded, dusty "closed" signs. A block away a new '33 Studebaker police cruiser with its mounted blue gumball light cruised by, its occupants hurrying to arrest some donuts and coffee; determined to make the inside of a cosy diner safe with their presence. Discarded sheets of newspaper tumbled along the bitumen, propelled by the stiff, early winter breeze. One such sheet paused, caught on a iron railing – its headline apparent to no-one but the closest of the shop windows. 
Wrap a fish in it

Then a sudden gust of wind dislodged the sheet and it tumbled off down the street …

… only to briefly catch against the leg of a slim, blonde haired woman. Linda Lane, investigative journalist with The Evening Herald irritably kicked the sheet of cold, damp paper away and stole a glance at her watch. 

"Well, I’m here on time," she whispered to herself.

Shivering, she pulled the collar of her grey coat tight against her throat and wished – not for the first time – that she had decided to wear something other than the fashionably short, calf length skirt, that had seemed like such a good idea in the warmth of her apartment. At least she had a scarf tied ascot style around her neck and a pair of black wrist-length gloves to keep her neck and hands warm. Although if she was honest, she would admit that these, too, had been chosen for the sense of modern style they exuded, rather than for any practical purpose. 

But then Linda could hardly be blamed for wanting to look her best. The woman she was waiting for happened to be a top New York fashion designer. And, furthermore, a top New York fashion designer who claimed to have knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing Slavonian film star, Nalia Kramer. It was the kind of story that could make a career – and her weasel of an editor had told her to layoff, that it "wasn't a story for a dizzy dame." She'd show him. She'd show them all!

It was for that reason that Linda had agreed to secretly meet with Ilsa Smythe at 11pm on a damp, cold, inner city night. She was well aware of the risks, however. An attractive woman, out by herself in the middle of the night, could easily attract unwanted attention. So she had come prepared. Along with the flash-bulb camera that hung heavily around her neck by its leather strap, Linda had brought along a small pocket knife that she had stuck into the waistband of her skirt, behind her right hip.

It was, after all, the late thirties – and a girl simply could not be too careful in this modern day and age. 

At least, that was what her cousin Lois always said. And since Lois was a hot shot reporter in Metropolis, everyone told Linda that she should listen to what the brassy, overachieving shrew had to say. 

Well, just this once, Linda – not Lois – was going to crack the big story. And it would be an entirely different Lane who would grab front page headlines across the country!

Linda suddenly heard a door being opened and a moment later, the sound of thick heels on wet concrete. She turned to peer down the narrower of the two streets she was positioned to see, and saw a tall figure approaching. A heart-pounding moment later she breathed an audible sigh of relief as she saw it was the woman she had been waiting for. 

Ilsa Smythe hurried to within a few steps of Linda. She was a striking woman in her late thirties. Blonde hair swept up and back in a bun, and all but hidden beneath a black hat she wore. Likewise, her face, which Linda knew to be classically beautiful if slightly severe, was shielded behind a mesh veil descending from hat’s brim. Ilsa had also dressed more mindfully of the cold as demonstrated by her ankle length fur coat.

"Miss Lane," said Ilsa as she stopped a few feet short of Linda. "I was less than sure that you would take this opportunity."

"On the contrary – how could I resist?" Linda took a steadying breath. "And I want to thank you for offering your help."

"At least wait until you’ve seen what I’m about to show you before you thank me," smiled Ilsa from beneath her veil. "Although I am sure you will be very surprised."

"Perhaps you can give me more of an idea of exactly what I’ll be …" Linda trailed off as Ilsa, ignoring her, turned and quickly began to walk back down the street. With little other choice, the reporter followed.

They walked for almost one hundred yards before Ilsa turned sharply and trotted down a short staircase to a doorway beneath street level. For a moment, Linda paused, an inner sense of unease warring with her reporter’s instinct for a story. But then she heard the rumbling of an automobile engine and looked up to see headlights approaching her through the midnight mist. Rather than be seen by the driver, she followed Ilsa down the steps and through the door the fashion designer had just opened.

She stepped into the foyer of a grandly furnished house. Oaken tables stood beneath classic pieces of art, a suit or armour stood guard by the door, and a staircase began on Linda’s left and spiralled up to a second floor landing. Although she liked to consider herself unflappable, Linda had to admit she was impressed. It was not that they were in a particularly bad part of town, but this kind of décor was better suited to a home west of 84th Street.

Ilsa closed the door behind her and took a moment to turn the key in its lock. Linda hardly noticed. She was still too busy staring at her surroundings. Other than the staircase, there were two main exits – a massive set of ivory double doors to her right, and a smaller wooden door beneath the staircase.

"Quiet is now of the essence, Miss Lane. If we are discovered within these walls …" Rather than finishing her warning, Ilsa led the way toward the door beneath the grand staircase, Linda sticking close behind. As they reached the flimsy looking door, the designer paused to whisper: "What is beyond this door will change you life forever. Are you sure you still wish to see?" 

Could she be leading me right to Nalia Kramer ? Linda thought excitedly. She nodded quickly, not wanting to wait a moment longer. In response, Ilsa twisted the knob on the door and pushed it open slightly. The two women exchanged a glance, and Ilsa motioned for Linda to take a look. The reporter slid past the other woman, and peered through the partially open door. Linda gasped in surprise and whirled around to confront Ilsa …

… Only to catch a face full of noxious smelling cloth as the tall, blonde woman slammed her against the wall. Linda fought to hold her breath while struggling against the other woman’s superior position and strength, but knew she was fighting a losing battle. 

"Just breathe deeply, my dear," Ilsa soothed from between gritted teeth, "and all your troubles will soon be over."

Unable to break free of Ilsa’s hold, Linda made one last desperate attempt to kick out at her attacker. But the woman simply accepted the blow on her hip and pressed harder on the cloth that was smothering Linda. Finally, the pretty reporter could stand it no longer and opened her mouth to suck in a deep lungful of whatever drug the cloth had been soaked in.

A few moments and two further breaths later, Linda was allowed to slump to the floor, her legs already too weak to support her. As her vision retreated down a long dark tunnel, Linda’s eyes fell upon the room Ilsa had revealed before attacking her. The room that was supposed to be occupied by the kidnapped actress.

But was instead nothing more than a broom closet.

The last thing Linda heard was Ilsa chuckling above her, and then, in a distinctly European accent say: "Und now for ze ropes!"
Linda Lane: Byline-Danger! A MINI-MELODRAMA
Well in excess of 70 years in the future, and at least one plane of reality away, Anne Clayton jogged along a gradually curving corridor of Tesseract Seattle’s Inner Sanctum. She wore a figure hugging black leotard, white running shoes, short socks, and a narrowly folded red bandana tied across her short, cropped hair as a sweatband. 

Although Anne would not have admitted it to anyone who cared to ask, she was not running in an attempt to improve her already sleekly proportioned body, or because of any desire to raise her current fitness level. No, her true reason for running through the maze of corridors that was the Inner Sanctum was simply to work off some excess sexual tension.

Work had kept her extremely busy for the best part of the last three days, and she’d missed out on at least one "Gathering of the Alices" that had reportedly resulted in a great deal of fun. She had not realised just how frustrated she’d become until she’d been able to tear herself away from the reams of legal documents that she had been facing – only to find that most of the other Alices were with Margo on a trip to visit Madame Lian. So she had decided that a late evening run was in order to allow her to get a good night’s sleep. Although if she was honest with herself, she was well aware of the possibility that either she would find someone … or someone would find her. 

Anne’s thoughts trailed off as one of the Biosphere's rarely seen valet-bots came scuttling down the corridor toward her.

Ahhh, she thought to herself, now this is more like it.

The elegant little bot did a quick loop around the panting lawyer as she came up to it and halted at her feet. A panel in its side slid open, prompting Anne to bend down and see the envelope propped inside. Smiling, she grabbed the heavy, lightly scented, paper packet and stood, using her manicured nails to neatly tear it open. Inside was a small piece of paper which she quickly read.   

inviteSo, Anne mused, I wasn't the only person left behind when the fun moved to Hong Kong.  'An evening of VR Entertainment,' hmmm... Anne smiled.  "I see this isn't addressed to me in particular," she told the waiting bot. "Were you programmed to deliver this to the first unsuspecting Inner Circle member you met?"  The valet-bot's only answer was to spin in a tight circle, emit a musical chime, and head back in the direction it had come. Anne followed without hesitation, but required a steady pace to keep up with the fast moving machine.

The little bot twisted and turned its way deep into the bowels of the Inner Sanctum, until Anne was far from sure she would have been able to find her way out of the maze of pristine white corridors had she wanted to. Eventually, however, it stopped outside a sealed door; Anne followed suit, puffing for breath.

"This … better be … worth it," she panted at the machine.

In answer, the door to the room slid open, revealing one of the specialized VR suites that were a main attraction within Margo Wells’ personal playground. The first thing Anne noticed was that two of the four pods in the suite were occupied. She stepped inside and made her way toward a locker in the corner of the room. Within, she found two black spandex bodysuits, one of which she took down from its hanger. Quickly, she slipped out of her tennis shoes, socks and leotard, and began to dress in the shiny bodysuit.

"Would you like to join the game in progress, Ms Clayton?" a disembodied, melodious voice inquired.

Anne grinned, not at all startled by the voice of Eve, the Artificial Intelligence created by Margo that effectively ran the Inner Sanctum and Tesseract in general. "Aside from my change of clothing, Eve, what gave my interest away?"

"Ms. Clayton, you are aware that I am programmed to be able to detect the slightest physiological sign of sexual arousal – and yours have been overly apparent for the past twenty-two minutes."

Anne laughed and finished zipping herself into the bodysuit. "So what’s the scenario?"

"1930s political espionage. Ms. Curtis has just been taken captive by the villainous, Ilsa Heigelstein. She is playing Linda Lane, an investigative journalist with The Evening Herald newspaper."

"Sounds good," said Anne, her mind awash with exciting possibilities as she climbed into the pod and began to settle herself into the sensor lined cocoon-cavity. "And the other player?"

"A surprise," answered the A.I. with a detectable note of smugness. "Sufficed to say that she is playing the role of a kidnapped Slavonian film actress."

"And the role I’ll be playing?" Anne asked as she slipped her hands and feet into their appropriate cavities. She was practiced enough at setting herself up for VR that she could, and in fact had, done it blindfolded.

There was a brief pause as the panels around her limbs snapped closed, and the interior of the pod began to shrink.. "I believe the game would best be enhanced if you were to take the role of Deb Diamond – a private investigator hired to watch over Ms. Lane."

"Tough as nails, cynical, embittered, but firmly on the side of the angels, with a soft spot for puppies, kittens, and helpless dames in need of rescuing?" Anne inquired. 

"Exactly," Eve responded. 

Anne watched as the sensory hood lowered from above. "Cool! Thank you, Eve"

"Enjoy yourself, Ms. Clayton."

The hood slipped over Anne’s head, and the inner cavity moulded itself to her spandex encased body. A familiar tingle spread through her. She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and …
Linda Lane: Byline-Danger! A MINI-MELODRAMA
… cursing, threw a hand up to brace herself as the taxi she was in hit a particularly nasty pot-hole. An elderly man was at the wheel, his face a mask of concentration as he steered them through a thick mist. He wore a tweed driving hat with a hack licence badge pinned to the brim.

Deb Diamond-P.I. Anne – in the virtual guise of Deb Diamond – shot the man an annoyed glance. She instantly knew everything about her character Anne. She also knew that her transition to VR had not been as sudden as it appeared. In fact Eve had kept her in a time compressed sleep-like state for several minutes and subliminally implanted with the background information she might need for the scenario. Her new knowledge ranged from the type of office she worked out of (run down and poorly lit), to the latest in long line of cases she had successfully solved (the recovery of a rare jewel – and a kidnapped co-ed – belonging to a wealthy family). So she knew that Deb was not the kind of woman to take kindly to any kind of error.

"It’s improper for a lady to swear like that," stated the driver, his eyes remaining fixed on the road. 

Anne shook her head and lit a cigarette. She knew the PI also smoked, did not suffer fools, and certainly did not take lip from anybody. "Just drive the car and leave the thinking to me, pal," she snapped.  Deb took a drag on the coffin nail, then Anne snubbed it out in the taxi's surprisingly clean ashtray.  I'm not so sure I want Deb to be that hard-boiled, Anne thought.  "Sorry pops," she muttered.  "Guess I'm in a crappy mood." She saw the driver's wrinkled eyes smile back at her briefly in the rearview mirror, then he turned his attention back to the road.

Anne looked back out the windscreen, and settled more deeply into her role. The mist was beginning to thin up ahead, and through it, she saw a woman standing uncertainly on the edge of a stairwell. The woman – all long blonde hair and shapely gams – looked up in surprise at the approaching car, and ducked out of sight. 

Bingo! Deb recognised her quarry. She’d picked the lock on the Lane broad’s apartment door earlier in the evening and found a scribbled message on the table next to the phone. It had read: "Ilsa Smythe, Nalia Kramer??? Cnr of 108th and 51st". She hadn’t needed an interpreter to tell her that Linda was on to something big – or at least thought she was. Nalia was the Slavonian actress who had disappeared from her hotel room over a week ago while on a tour of the States to promote her first American film.

"Stop here."

The driver did so, and Deb tossed two dollar bills at him. "Keep the change." Without responding to his muttered thanks, she climbed out of the car and peered back up the street in the direction Linda Lane had disappeared.

She’d be the first to admit the current job was far too easy. A phone call, a brief meeting, and she, Deb Diamond – P.I. for hire – was suddenly working for Malcolm Lane. The wealthy oil merchant, big game hunter and famous philanthropist was offering her fifty bucks a day just to shadow his journalist daughter because he was worried about her. Apparently she’d gotten herself in a bit of bind on more than one occasion, and he wanted someone around to make sure no lasting harm came to the light of his life. Someone unobtrusive because daughter-dear would not approve if she knew daddy was interfering. Discretion, therefore, was of the utmost importance, he had warned.

Consequently, Deb did not immediately charge in after Linda. Instead, she decided to give her a good ten minute head start. Deb figured that if anything really bad was going to happen, it would take longer than that to play out.
Linda Lane: Byline-Danger! A MINI-MELODRAMA
The first thing Naomi felt was a gentle constriction around her chest becoming tighter and tighter. She tried to sleepily knock the offending sensation away, but for some strange reason, found that her hands would not move from behind her back. 

As awareness crept back, she realised that her arms were also refusing to move apart, and were being pressed against something hard and unyielding. It took a few more moments for her chloroform addled mind to combine these various facts and reach the conclusion that she was … in the process of being tightly bound!

Naomi’s – no, no Linda’s – eyes flew open. (Have to remember this is a game, she thought). She looked down to see herself sitting in a padded wooden chair. Her legs were free, but she could feel that her arms were bound tightly behind her back at wrist and elbow. Her coat and jacket had been removed, leaving her wearing only a thin white blouse. White coils of rope were been tied above and below her breasts, causing them to strain against the thin fabric of her top. As she watched, the coils of rope suddenly tightened further, and she realised that her captor had not yet finished binding her. Linda turned as best she could in her seat and looked straight into the glinting eyes of Ilsa Smythe.

"Zere! Goot und tight!" exclaimed the grinning fashion designer as she stood up straight. Her fur coat had been discarded and she now wore a black pin-stripe evening suit complete with seamed stockings. Her blond locks hung freely about the high collar of the suit. "Welcum back from ze land of dreams, Miss Lane, to ze land of nightmares."

"You’re Slavonian?" Linda asked groggily.

"Ah! Ze accent, it zis a dead give away, I know, but I find it zo much more komfortable zhan my Amerikan one, which iz merely a… how you say?" Ilsa stroked her chin thoughtfully and then spoke in her regular American accent. "Yes, that’s right: an affectation." 

"But you’re Ilsa Smythe – the famous fashion designer."

"Being a fashion designer is but a kover for my true purpoze. Und my aktual name is Ilsa Heigelstein."

Lind struggled ineffectually against the ropes holding her prisoner. Whatever crazy game Ilsa was playing, she certainly knew her knots well enough to hold a girl captive. "And what, exactly, would that ‘purpoze’ be?"

Ilsa looked surprised, as if Linda should already have known the answer to her question. "Why, to raize money for ze revolution in Slavonia, of kourse. King Bazha must be dethroned!" Ilsa smiled slowly. "Vich is vhere you kum in, my little reporter."

"Ransom ..." 

"Korrect! And not just for you." Ilsa bent down alongside Linda and snatched up a short piece of rope with which she began to bind the reporter’s ankles together. "You zee, I waz not lyingk earlier. Nalia Kramer is here, und is alzo my prizoner!"

Linda gasped. "You kidnapped her? Your own star…how could you?"

"I vill do vhatever is best for my country … And King Bazha is a spineless veaklingk. Understand?" Ilsa chuckled. "Now, my associates and I vill be holdingk you kaptive for a few days, vhile ve arrange for your father to pay us ze vun hundred zousand dollars ve vill be demandingk."

"You can’t!"

"I believe ve kan, Miss Lane." Ilsa savagely tied off the knot holding Linda’s ankles together, then took a remaining end and bound it to the right leg of the chair, as she added: "Und zere is nozingk you can ve doingk to stop us."

"He won’t pay you!" Linda exclaimed defiantly.

"Zat is vere I zink you are vrong." Ilsa reached into the breast pocket of her blazer. "He vill pay … but perhaps not until after he has received a few piezes of his darlingk daughter in ze post."

Before Linda could reply with further denials, Ilsa produced a wad of white cloth and pressed it against Linda’s lips. She tried to turn her head away, but Ilsa’s free hand suddenly grabbed her nose and pinched her nostrils shut. "Mmmnnnnnnuuu!" Linda protested into the cloth, before the inevitable happened and she ran out of air. As soon as she involuntarily opened her mouth, Ilsa stuffed the wad of cloth past her teeth and into her oral cavity. The helpless reporter tried to tongue the intrusive wad out of her mouth, but Ilsa was awake to her ploy, and pressed a firm hand across her lips to hold the gag in place. A moment later she shoved a second wad between Linda’s lips, completely stuffing her mouth; and then proceeded to tie a thick silken scarf between her teeth to complete the gag.

Linda shook her head and glared at Ilsa angrily. But she could vocalize nothing more than muffled grunts of indignation.

Ilsa patted Linda on the head mockingly. "Nice and qviet, no?" she purred and began to walk out of the room. She paused in the doorway to turn and stare at her helpless captive. "Of course, now zat you have zeen my face and know my zecret identity, I can never let you leave here alive." 

Linda’s heart seemed to miss a beat. Fear formed in her stomach and scuttled up her chest to affect her breathing. She stared in undisguised horror at her captor – who simply threw back her head and laughed. "Und don’t bother straining for zis," Ilsa said triumphantly, holding up the pocket knife that Linda had secreted in the waistband of her skirt – and promptly forgotten. "Ve Slavonians are avake to you Amerikans every trick!" she spat, before turning on her heel and slamming the door closed.

There was barely time for the first of the tears Linda began to shed to trickle down her bulging cheeks before the door was opened again. She looked up, expecting to see Ilsa back to taunt her further, but instead saw a woman in a beige trench-coat and beat up fedora slip into the room, leaving the door slightly ajar behind her. 

"MMMmmnngggnn!" she cried out through her gag. The woman frowned and raised a single finger to her lips, indicating silence. Linda nodded her understanding and watched as the woman crept forward to stand over her.

"Don’t get your stockings in a bunch, dollface," whispered the woman. "I’m going to get you out of here."

Linda had no idea who her mysterious benefactor was; however, given her situation, she had no intention of complaining. Instead, she nodded once and tried to motion for the woman to remove her gag. Her would-be rescuer, however, had already knelt down and begun picking at the knots binding her to the chair. Linda groaned quietly.

"Shhhh!" hissed the woman. "You wanna bring that Slavonian bitch back?"

Linda felt as much as heard someone in front of her. She was already looking up to see who it was when the voice spoke.

"Ze ‘Slavonian bitch’, as you put it, is already bak," said a pistol-brandishing Ilsa from the doorway. "Now, step avay from my prizoner before I am forced to zhoot you."
Linda Lane: Byline-Danger! A MINI-MELODRAMA
Until that moment, things had been going exceedingly well for Deb.

After finding the front door locked, she had searched for an easier entry into the house. She’d found one in the form of a partially open window, and had silently made her way inside. She’d crept through an empty bedroom and out onto a second floor landing. It was there that for just a moment, she’d thought her search was over – except that the bound and gagged woman she spied through the half open double doors leading off the lavishly furnished entry hall below was not Linda Lane, investigative reporter.

She was unmistakably Nalia Kramer, kidnapped actress …

…Whom Deb – or rather Anne – instantly realised bore an uncanny resemblance to Elke Weber, personal trainer and best friend of Margo Wells, Tesseract’s CEO.

There were certain differences, of course. The "Slavonioan movie star’s" muscled physique was not quite so pronounced, and her light blonde, almost white hair was now a shade darker than brunette. But otherwise …

From her obscure vantage point Deb could distinguish that Nalia Kramer was wearing the same strapless gown she had last been seen in on the night she disappeared. It had been a light burgundy colour and very flattering, but was now stained and hung in tatters off her body. Not that the Slavonian film star was capable of restoring her dignity. Her hands were handcuffed to the chair on which she sat, and she was further bound by tight coils of grimy grey rope that held her arms against her sides and also lashed her to the seat. She was gagged with a thick grey cloth that was knotted beneath her cascade of hair. Even from this distance, Deb could tell by the "chipmunk" look of the Nalia’s cheeks that the woman’s mouth had been severely packed to further muffle any noise she might try to make. Both bonds and gag looked tight, but the Slavonian’s expression was clearly one of bored disdain and mild frustration. Deb knew that look – it was the expression of someone who had been in their predicament for a long time and was well and truly sick of it.

Exactly how long has Elke been a captive in this game? She (Anne) wondered with a quiet chuckle. Should I rescue Elke first?, she pondered, then decided to see how the game would play out if Elke was allowed to ... enjoy ... her present condition for as long as possible. It might make her properly grateful, Anne mused, when she finally is rescued.  Anne savoured the sight of the helpless "star" for several more seconds, then sighed, and allowed herself to settle back into character.

Down below, the kidnapped actress attempted to struggle free of her bonds. Her efforts caused a previously unseen burly bald man to step into view and growl "None of that, wench." Deb ducked back out of sight, surprised by the appearance of the goon. She nevertheless heard a second deep voice mutter something along the lines of "… or get a slap across that pretty face."

So ... the "actress" is bound and gagged and guarded by two minions ... Which begged the question: Where the hell is Linda Lane?

Deb had her answer a moment later when she heard a female voice gloating from behind a closed door further along the landing.

After that she’d heard only snatches of the woman’s plans for Linda while waiting for her to leave the room. But it was enough to know that an immediate rescue was in order rather than leaving her charge to go for help. 

The only problem was that the plan had gone awry and she was now staring down the barrel of a pistol held by that same woman, instead of escaping into the night with Linda (and Nalia) by her side.

"As I said, step avay or die," repeated the blonde woman coldly 

With gritted teeth, Deb slowly stood and stepped away from the still securely bound Linda.

"Put your hands in ze air." Deb complied. "Good. Now, vho are you?" 

Deb forced a slow smile, knowing that any sign of weakness would be inviting a bullet. "Deb Diamond, PI for Hire. And you, sweetface, are …?"

"I am not your ‘sweetvace’. I am Ilsa Heigelstein, und from zis point, I vill be askingk ze questions. Understood?"

Deb nodded, while taking a sly step toward Ilsa. "Anything you say, sweetface. What’s eating at your cute little kaboose?" She slid another step closer.

"I vant to know vhat you are doingkin zis house, und I vant to know now!"

"Okay, sure, just take it easy. No-one needs to get hurt here." She edged closer again. "Like I said, I’m just a PI, hired to keep an eye on our nosy reporter friend here. So I know what dollface can be like – all talk and no listen. Hell, that gag is made for her mouth." Deb heard a muffled grunt of indignation behind her, and used it to cover her next step closer. "But I’m sure we can work something out." Step.

Deb was now only six feet away from the woman. Almost close enough to make a play for the gun. All she needed was two more steps and then she could knock the bitch down and go for the .38 in the top of her right stocking …

Ilsa’s eyes narrowed. "Ztop right zere, Miss Diamond, und lie face down on ze floor."

"But …"

"DO IT!"

With little other choice, the PI dropped to the ground. She heard Ilsa call out something in a language that sounded like Slavonian, before again addressing her in accented English. "Pleaze ztay still, Miss Diamond. My guards vill be here in but a moment."

A thrill coursed through Anne’s (if not Deb’s) body. She knew what was coming next and it was what she had been craving all night long.

"Vhat?" said Ilsa with genuine surprise. "No further komment from our plucky heroine? You disappoint me, Miss Diamond."

Anne grinned inwardly, but Deb’s expression was a snarl as she looked up and hissed: "You know you’ll never get away with this!"

"Oh ho! Zat is much better!" Ilsa laughed as the man Deb had earlier seen guarding Natasha stepped into the room. He was bald and wore a dark pin-striped suit. The other man, who was thinner and had more hair, was garbed in a white pin-striped suit.. "Vut now I am goingk to prove you vrong. Boyz, tie her up – and be sure to make it tighter zan tight!"
Linda Lane: Byline-Danger! A MINI-MELODRAMA
Linda watched helplessly as the PI was quickly grabbed by the two men despite her animated struggles. One of them – Baldy – began pinning her hands together, but was halted by a barked command from Ilsa.

"No! Check her for veapons. Ze other one had a knife." Deb struggled against the men as they pulled her trench coat half off, pinning her arms to her sides. A quick pat down revealed a .38 in the top of one of her black stockings. The weapon was taken away and tossed to Ilsa, while Tall Man wrapped a long length of cord around the PI’s elbows and bound them together. That done, Baldy tore her trench coat off and dropped it in a heap on the floor. There was a ripping sound as Tall Man forced Deb forward, but it wasn’t until her hands had been bound palm-to-palm and she was permitted to stand straight up again, that Linda saw her blouse had torn above her breasts. It was hanging half off, baring her left shoulder and exposing her left bra strap and most of the cup.

"Goot," Ilsa commented. "Now her legs."

Deb cursed and kicked at her binders, before Baldy managed to catch a hold of her feet and bind them together at the ankles, lacing the thin rope down & encircling the insteps of Deb's stylish heels. Tall Man chipped in by tying more rope just above her knees, managing to rip Deb's skirt in the process. When they were done, they stood back momentarily to catch their breath, and left Deb teetering on the spot – her black three inch heels tapping a staccato, trembling tattoo against the floorboards of the room; her shapely, bound, nylon-clad legs quivering as she struggled to maintain her balance.

Linda, for her part, subtly began to twist her wrists back and forth against her bonds, while Ilsa surveyed her newest captive.

"How do ze ropes feel, Miss Diamond? Uncomfortable enough for you?"

Deb smiled sweetly, but her eyes glimmered with anger. "Why don’t you untie me, bitch, and I’ll show you just what discomfort is all about."

Ilsa cackled with glee. "Ahhh! Zat is it! Brave but fruitless words. You Amerikans are all the same. Boyz, string her up!"

The two goons almost leapt to the task of again bending Deb forward and this time attaching a long rope to her already bound wrists. Baldy threw the other end of the rope up and over an exposed support beam above them. Linda gasped into the cloth in her mouth as Baldy then tugged on the rope, pulling Deb’s arms up and back as far as their bound position would allow. "Higher... higher still," Ilsa instructed. "I vant her heels to juuust leave ze floor." Baldy complied, prompting a groan of discomfort from Deb. "Zere! Perfekt!" 

Baldy tied off the rope to Deb’s elbow tie and stepped back. Thin Man shook a black handkerchief out of his breast pocket and was just balling it up – presumably to stuff into the PI’s mouth – when Ilsa ordered them to stop.

Deb wavered helplessly on the balls of her feet as the men backed away and Ilsa strode forward. Linda saw Ilsa hold out a hand and Thin Man pop the wad of cloth into her palm. Ilsa, frowning, cleared her throat as if pointing out an obvious error. Thin Man, stopped, rummaged through his pockets and placed a second wad into his Mistress’ hand. "Zat’s better," she commented as she paused alongside the tightly bound reporter. 

Linda looked up and glared mutely at her Slavonian kidnapper, hoping that her expression would convey more than she was able to say. 

"Ohh, Miss Lane, such anger. Vhatever vill I do with you?" Ilsa said mockingly, and raised her hand as if to strike her. Linda involuntarily turned away, but then instead of a blow, felt her paisley scarf being torn from her neck. When she dared to look back, Ilsa was bent down alongside Deb, her smile wide and taunting.

"Let me guess," said the PI as she struggled fruitlessly against her tight bonds, "you’re going to gag me, mock us with our helplessness and then steal off to consolidate your plans?"

Ilsa rubbed her chin in a parody of thoughtfulness … then leant forward and quick as a striking snake, stuffed the first of the cloth wads into Deb’s mouth. "Close," she answered as she forced the second wad in and covered Deb’s mouth with the palm of her hand. Deb coughed on the cloth intrusion while Ilsa skilfully folded Linda’s scarf into a thick band. "But your comingk here has greatly changed my plans."

Ilsa snatched her hand away and covered Deb’s mouth with the scarf, detective gag style, and tied it off tightly behind her head. "You see, now I cannot be sure zat others are not on zeir way to rescue you and Miss Lane here."

Tough break, Deb. A sinking feeling began in Linda’s stomach.

Ilsa stood and spoke quickly in Slavonian. Linda was only able to make out the name "Boris". 

In response, Baldy quickly left the room. Ilsa issued another common in Slavonian, which this time had Tall Man scampering off. 

"Ve vill now be leaving ze two of you," she said, still smiling – but now, Linda noted, the smile had a dangerous edge to it. "Nalia is, of course, ze real prize. You were but a bonus, Miss Lane." She paused dramatically as Boris returned and handed her something in the doorway. "And sadly, a bonus I can no longer afford to keep."

Ilsa turned back to face them, and Linda saw that she held three sticks of taped together dynamite in her hand. These were attached by wires to some kind of crude timer. A thrill of horror coursed through Linda and she gasped into her gag. Deb, for her part, began to moan loudly, shaking her head back and forth with great gusto.

Ilsa chuckled in response as she made her way over to stand between the two helpless women. She bent down and placed the bomb on the floor in front of Linda’s chair. Linda added her muffled protests to those of the PI’s, but she too was ignored, as Ilsa made an adjustment to the timer on the bomb.

"Zere! Ze two of you now have five minutes to live. I vould tell you to say your goodbyes, but I am hardly about to take your gags off! So Farevell!" 

And with that, Ilsa Heigelstein swept from the room, Boris trailing in her wake to slam the door as he exited.

For a moment, Linda sat there stunned, unable to believe what had just transpired. She leant over to gawk at the bomb that lay ticking on the floor only three feet below her. 

tick... tick... tick... We’re going to die here!

Panic set in. Linda threw herself against her bonds, trying desperately to free herself. She thought she felt a little give in the ropes binding her wrists, but knew it wasn’t enough to get free in the time remaining to them. Beside her, Deb did the same – struggling with such force that she threatened to lose her teetering balance. Both women gasped and moaned into their muffling gags while they also worked their jaws in the vain hope that they could free their tongues and call for help. But like the ropes holding them, their gags remained tight and secure …

… and the clock continued to tick away; counting down their last seconds of life.

Terrified almost beyond the capacity for reasonable thought, Linda came up with a desperate plan. Without pausing to even consider its ramifications, she threw herself to the side with all her weight. Once, twice, she repeated this motion – and then she and the wooden chair she was bound to toppled to the side. 

In her panic affected thoughts, Linda had envisioned the chair shattering into a dozen pieces as she hit the hard floorboards of the room. So she was somewhat surprised when the chair merely bounced and came to rest with her still bound tightly to its frame.

For a few precious seconds, she lay there stunned. Until, suddenly, Deb’s urgent, gagged mewlings galvanised her into action. Linda glanced back over her shoulder to see the bomb laying only a tantalizingly few centimetres from her fingertips. 

How long has it been? she thought wildly.

Barely able to breathe through the constricting gag, Linda strained with all her might to reach the wires connecting the dynamite to the timer. The bonds around her wrists and elbows bit deeply into her flesh. Time continued to trickle away as she struggled, but was unable to do anything more than brush against the side of the dynamite with the tip of her longest, middle finger.

And, suddenly, with a horrifying flash of insight, Linda knew without a doubt that she was not going to reach the connecting wires, and that she and the PI were out of time …
Is this the end for our stylish but disheveled heroines???
Or will they escape the imminent bomb-blast
& take their revenge on the evil Ilsa Heigelstein?

Is this truly ...
THE END of  Linda Lane: Byline- Danger!

In a word... NO!
Find out in the next EXPLOSIVE episode...
(Sorry Linda... Deb... Poor choice of words.)
...of Linda Lane: Ace Reporter!!!
Spellbing Tales of Virtual Adventure!
(so to speak) SOON!