by Steve Quilt
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
Jenny Paige was astonished to see the two black Niqab veiled women at her hotel room door, and for a sickening moment the young woman thought that the security around her home had been breached. The criminal underworld had found her and she was convinced they were going to kill her. Here to kill her right now and stop her testifying. With a cry of despair, Jenny took a step back and fumbled for the panic button the cops had installed, but one of the Niqab women was faster than she was and grabbed her hand to stop her.
“It’s okay, Miss Paige, we are WHIPP officers,” the woman said from behind her veil as she let go of Jenny’s hand. “Relax. We are the good guys.” From the pocket in her Niqab she took out a gold and silver badge embossed with the letters W.H.I.P.P on it, and an engraved image of shield showing a lion standing guard over two small lion cubs at his feet. The enduring symbol of the people who protected witnesses.
“Witness Hidden Identity Protection Program,” confirmed the second Niqab clad woman, who was carrying a black holdall in one hand and was closing the door with the other as she spoke. The lock clicked shut. “We’re here to protect you and deliver you safely to the court.”
Jenny stared for moment and realising neither of the two full-length Abaya clad women were holding weapons, she felt a surge of relief. “I thought the police would take me there,” she said, her voice shaking from her reaction to the two females arriving unexpectedly and looking so formidable.
“That is what the bad guys think,” said the first Niqabi, who was the taller of the pair. The only part of her that as visible was the narrow band of her face that revealed her eyes, but to Jenny they seemed kind. “Trust me: this sort of thing fools them best of all.”
The second woman in the Niqab however was producing a pair of handcuffs from the now open holdall. “Miss Paige, I am WHIPP officer 73, and we need your full and unresisting co-operation at once. Please kneel on the floor and put your hands behind you.”
Jenny blinked at the pair and wanted to say this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. She had been told WHIPP would take control of her as prime witness and everyone — especially the anxious cops detailed to protect her — could feel she would be safer now. Safe from assassination, guarded against wounding, free from fear of threats. WHIPP would get her to court in one piece so she could testify. But she wasn’t the criminal, so why should she wear handcuffs? The words began to form on her lips when the first Niqabi spoke.
“If you want to survive, Miss Paige, you do exactly as you are told.” She sounded very serious indeed.
Jenny did as she was told. Her lawyer had said to be ready for the unexpected and this was it. Her hands were behind her and the Niqabi-clad Officer 73 swiftly clicked the silver steel cuffs on her wrists. At the same time the first of the two Niqabi clad officers had moved to the window, scanning the street outside. “Clear out there,” she said with a note of relief in her voice. Then she turned to the kneeling Jenny.
“I am officer 46. I am the senior of the two WHIPP Officers here today serving you. From now on you must do exactly as we say and not offer any doubts or objections. We have to get you to court to testify and to do this we have to do it our way. Some of the things we ask you to do, or in fact will order you to do, are intended solely to get you to your court date in one piece.”
Jenny gulped and nodded. It felt odd to be kneeling, hands cuffed behind her back in this hotel room. It was she assumed from seeing various thrillers on the TV the position the condemned took before execution, but unless the holdall contained an axe, she was going to keep her head. Feeling a sense of relief that maybe this was going to turn out okay, the kneeling woman nodded and started to say thank you but the taller officer still at the window said sharply, “Be quiet!”
“The less you say, the less you are at risk,” whispered officer 73 into Jenny’s ear. “If this room is still bugged in some way, if a listening device has escaped the electronic sweep then we — you — must say as little as possible. Our movements, plans, cover and even the next destination must remain secret. Legally, too, it helps. The less you say will prevent any mistrial being called. The enemy has some very devious lawyers.” Jenny gulped and nodded in response to this. If she had been in any doubt, the seriousness of her position was coming home to her.
Officer 73 tugged at the short chain between the two cuffs and looked up at her partner, who had moved from the window and was now unpacking the holdall. “Object secure,” she said.
The taller Niqabi silently took two things from the bag. In one had she held a red ball gag and the other was a camera. The WHIPP Officer tossed the ball gag to her partner and prepared to take a picture. For a second Jenny was confused, but it all came clear as Officer 73 slipped the ball gag into the handcuffed woman’s mouth and buckled it closed. The Officer satisfied herself the gag was in fully and then stood back. The Niqabi with the camera took several pictures of the cuffed and gagged Jenny where she knelt on the floor.
“Date stamped photos,” Officer 46 explained casually as she put the camera back in the bag. “In case one those bastard lawyers claims you told us your testimony. The gag proves you couldn’t tell us anything we or the prosecution didn’t already know. The cuffs prevent you handing us something that they might claim was not part of the evidence. You wouldn’t believe what these people can concoct to get their criminal clients off the hook.”
The gag felt uncomfortable, filling Jenny’s mouth, but she nodded to show she understood why all this was happening. She was already drooling a little from having the rubber ball between her teeth but secured as she was, she could do little to stop it dribbling down her front on the her blouse-covered breasts.
“We’ll take care of that,” said Officer 73, who had noticed. She went to the bag and took out a large black soft pad with a strap. She proceeded to place the large pad over Jenny’s ball-gagged mouth and fasten it behind her head. “Super absorbent pad,” the Niqabi explained as she finished and checked it was clear of Jenny’s nose. “Soaks up the drool, you’ll be glad to know.”
The two Niqabi women then emptied the bag on a table in the room and sorted through it. “Your outfit,” said Officer 46. “You will look like us, clad in a Niqab, but naturally be silent and more or less unable to move fast. It’s for your protection.”
“However,” said the other Niqabi, “we have to undress you first. You may or may not want other women, either dressed modestly like us or not, to undress you but we have to first put on a bullet-proof vest and then your Niqab. Don’t worry, it isn’t as fierce or as restricting as it might seem at first glance.” Officer 73 actually winked at the kneeling, silent Jenny.
“Lot of women wear them,” said Officer 43. “Pretty much guarantees you won’t be bothered anywhere much.”
Kneeling perfectly still and despite everything, Jenny gave silent thanks that here were two professionals who would safeguard her.
Jenny Paige had no doubts this was the right thing. In a free society there may seem to be something strange about an organisation like WHIPP, about how they enforced their severe — almost cruel — protection of key witnesses. But the public had no complaints at seeing these vitally important people treated this way: as one they welcomed their own greater safety as a consequence.
In a lawless time, or rather a time of increasingly desperate acts by criminals, the Witness Hidden Identity Protection Program was the preservation of law and justice made visible. To see a person under the WHIPP scheme was to see a person virtually a mobile prisoner, restrained and secured and silenced as they made their way in public. But it worked. Perhaps because of its sheer aggression, the Program did its job. It protected those who needed protection most, and justice could be done.
Like so many of her fellow citizens, Jenny had felt an anger at the way important witnesses for trials had been tampered with, threatened and even kidnapped, before they could give their evidence. Like so many others, she had been appalled at the abduction and subsequent death of three prosecution witnesses in the Lucretti trial; the act of infamy that destroyed the case against one of the nation’s most callous criminals and finally forced the Government to act. If justice could not be done, then something had to be done.
Thus the Witness Hidden Identity Protection Program was created, a scheme dedicated to the full security of important witnesses. The Government was relieved to find little or no objection to how the program was conducted and it became commonplace for people to see those under the control of WHIPP being taken, under guard, to various trials across the nation. Sometimes they were caged behind bullet proof glass, sometimes just dressed normally but often in heavy chains and a hood with alarm devices strapped to them. But, Jenny admitted, she did not expect to be put in a Niqab. That was unusual, at least as far as she was concerned. She wasn’t sure how she felt about being veiled, but it was a price worth paying to be safe.
“You’ll be wearing a bullet proof vest first of all,” said officer 73. “But for your comfort we have to remove all your clothes first. Please don’t be alarmed.” The woman in the Niqab paused and sounded as if she was grinning. “Okay, it is a little tight when buckled on but think of it as a sort of heavy corset. Weird, but some of us women like that feel!”
Jenny gulped again. She had worn a corset at a college drama production, which when she came to sing, had made her short of breath. Still, if they were to be seen as modest women in Niqabs, they would be moving slowly. Even sedately.
However being naked in front of a woman, even someone dedicated to law and order, was not something she had thought possible or advisable. Nor did she even like the idea of being undressed. Jenny thought about objecting. She wanted to say she would do it herself, thank you very much, but she remembered the cuffs pinning her wrists. Anyway, the gag stopped her speaking so objecting and resisting was out. She couldn’t even gesture she would rather do things for herself.
Officer 73 set to with clinical efficiency, swiftly unbuttoning Jenny’s pale brown blouse and then in a quick, practised movement pulling it down her arms so it bunched at her wrists. In a moment the WHIPP officer had Jenny’s white bra off, unhooking the shoulder straps to allow it to come away easily. Jenny never liked her breasts being exposed unless she was alone but here they were, fully visible to two masked females. Perhaps it was the drama of this or some cool breeze from the AC unit, but Jenny’s nipples were hard and she wondered what these two WHIPP Officers would think. It didn’t matter, because Officer 73 unzipped Jenny’s black skirt and it fell to the floor, around the woman’s knees, followed by the black lace half-slip. Jenny was thankful that at least she had been spared having her pantyhose pulled down but it was only a temporary reprieve.
“Stand up, please,” whispered the officer and Jenny struggled to her feet, a task made harder by her skirt around her knees. The skirt and slip fell around her ankles and Jenny kicked them away from herself — a sign that at least she accepted that the WHIPP officers were only doing their job.
The cuffs came free for what could have been no more than a second and the blouse was off her arms. But before Jenny could even think of moving her arms the cuffs were snapped back on: clicking tighter than before it seemed.
To Jenny’s alarm officer 73 had her thumbs in the waistband of her pantyhose and pants: it took no more than a moment to slide them down the shocked girl’s hips and thighs. “Please…” she began in alarm but officer 46, watching closely, ignored Jenny’s feeble grunt and barked: “Quiet! It has to be done.”
Jenny immediately fell quiet, allowing her last items of underwear to be removed. She felt utterly embarrassed, standing quite naked, hands cuffed behind her, in front of these two females but neither seemed to even care. Unsure what to do, Jenny dropped to her knees and squeezed her legs tightly together in a bid to hide herself, hollowing her chest to stop her 36D breasts appearing so prominent. Trouble was, she could swear her nipples were harder than before if that was possible.
But Officer 46 was looking at the street through the window, not at her, and Officer 73 was sorting out a number of items on the table. They took no notice of her naked body.
The first thing that Jenny recognised among the items was a kevlar military style bullet-proof vest, but this one was notable for its straps and buckles at the back. Officer 73 separated it from the other things and advanced on the kneeling female, ordering Jenny to stand. She said nothing more as the Niqabi placed the corset vest round Jenny’s body, which was shivering slightly. Jenny was unsure if she was cold or simply scared. She decided it was both.
Officer 73 buckled the vest round her. In truth it was indeed like a corset, being drawn in at the waist and secured with small padlocks down the back after being buckled (surely bullet-proof vests weren’t locked on people, Jenny wondered and wished she could ask), but unlike a corset this jet black item was anything but elegant and stretched from above her breasts down over her hips to her thighs. At least, as it crushed her breasts and hauled her waist in, the nest-cum-corset was covering much of her nudity.
Jenny soon discovered this bullet proof corset was not entirely uncomfortable to go with its restrictive nature. She found rapidly however that she had to adjust her breathing to cope with the weight on her chest and the tightness on her waist.
“Tight, isn’t it?” asked officer 73. “Don’t worry. Just concentrate on breathing. You’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, right,” thought Jenny to herself.
“Uncomfortable but comforting,” added the other Niqabi, turning from the window. “Street’s still clear,” she added, with a smile. “For now.”
It was an assumption of Jenny’s that the officer had indeed smiled: the WHIPP officer was veiled and all she had to go on was the tone of her voice and her manner. The woman gave an impression of somehow, even under the Niqab, of being in good condition. Jenny guessed it was by dint of continuous workouts. They would be tough, but Jenny wondered if they were armed under their Niqabs.
And, Jenny had read somewhere, they were were definitely female: the psychologists knew that a woman has no hesitation in defending herself and her charge against male or female attackers. Men tended to want to ignore, or would choose not to, kill an attractive woman who was after the witness. A female would have no such hesitation.
Jenny was sure these two would have no hesitation in killing to save their own lives and her life, too. Even if she wouldn’t be exactly attractive in a shrouding Niqab with her face covered.
Officer 73 had returned from the table, holding a long sheath like item. Black, like everything else, but made of a thick rubber with laces dangling from it.
“This is your arm holster,” she explained, matter-of-factly. “In case you are wondering, it’s added protection. You are cuffed to stop you giving us items that may matter at the trial, but equally
witnesses must not be handed things which might, in a closely contested case, be deemed as material to the corruption of evidence.” The officer sounded as if she was reading from the statute book. “In other words,” she added, “you keep your hands to yourself! If you can’t release yourself from this no one can claim you were free to be corrupted.”
The other Niqabi spoke up. “We have expert witnesses ready to testify that no one can escape from an arm sheath like this. Not even Houdini!”
With her hands already cuffed together behind her back, Jenny did as was told and put her hands palm to palm. The WHIPP officer eased the strong sheath over them and up her arms, lacing it tightly as she did so and then securing it by two padlocks at the top, fastening it to the top of the corset. Jenny felt utterly helpless, completely unable to move any part of her arms. Even wriggling her fingers was out of the question.
The next item, it was explained, was to protect Jenny from any kidnap attempt. It was, simply, a short but heavy steel ankle chain. Jenny stood still while the two WHIPP Officers padlocked it to her ankles.
“Try to walk in it across the room,” said Officer 46. “See how it feels. Try to get used to it.”
Jenny took a few steps and gasped at the weight and how it restricted her movement. She wanted to say she could never go far in this. All she could do was ‘mmmph’ pathetically into her gag. She was however, intrigued how the chain made no noise, until she realised that each link was rubber coated for silence.
Both Niqabis nodded, no doubt pleased with how slowly Jenny moved. Officer 46 said: “Now you are much less of a kidnap target because literally no one can grab you to run off with you. You slow them down and makes it easier for us to catch up with you. It’s hard to believe but it really does deter any snatch attempts.”
Jenny grunted a reluctant acceptance. She imagined any kidnappers would prefer their victims already made helpless and immobile, but she also reckoned that a lot of psychology and experimental work had gone into this to counter threats and risks.
“Now the Abaya and Niqab, and we are done and ready to go,” said Officer 73.
“Happily the Niqab is thick and helps stifle sounds, both ways. You won’t be able to hear anything much,” said Officer 46. “No one can influence you then, but to be safe we will plug your ears. If you cannot hear a threat you also cannot hear an offer of any bribes. Your silence and your deafness is a powerful prosecution argument for an uncorrupted testimony, understood?”
Jenny felt unhappy about being denied so much awareness of the world around her, but nodded. The sooner this was done the better, she told herself.
With her ears plugged, and the thick woollen black Abaya dropped over her shoulders followed by the equally weighty — and hot to wear — Niqab fixed in place, Jenny felt she was less than human. When she saw herself in a mirror she saw a black, featureless shape with only the narrowest strip of her flesh with just her eyes showing. It was a weird feeling, seeing herself like this and knowing underneath she was chained and restrained. But even her freedom to see was taken from her with the simple addition of a pair of dark glasses.
As Jenny couldn’t hear, nothing was said to her (or if it was, it went unheard) about why she should not be able to see anything but dark shapes. The glasses she wore were not ordinary sunglasses; they were thicker and more opaque than anything she had ever worn before. Being aware of nothing more than simple movements of dark shapes was a disconcerting sensation. In one sense she felt utterly helpless and terrified with it, and in another surprising way she felt that she was the most cared for and protected she had ever been. Jenny began to feel that even if the two WHIPP Officers weren’t there the Niqab would make her feel contained and safe from the vicissitudes of a nasty, unfair world. In a moment the shrouded Jenny understood why women elected to be so heavily veiled. Despite the discomfort of the weight and heat of it all, Jenny felt safe. She felt whole, which she had not felt in years.
After all her worries since the police first approached her for evidence and talk of a trial, this sense of wholeness and safety was a very welcome feeling.
In the silence of her position and in her restricted view, Jenny became aware one of the Officers was on the ‘phone, talking. She couldn’t hear her speak but that was the idea of her restrictions. She stood and waited, aware too the other Officer had packed Jenny’s discarded clothes into the holdall. In a moment these two would lead her out and their journey to court would begin. It would be funny to be outside like this, out in the fresh air while so covered and secured. People would look at her and wonder who she was, but they wouldn’t know why she was like this.
Obscurity was everything, and it was glorious.
Jenny became aware that the phone call being made was long. Very long. Her feet began to ache and she wished she could sit down, even if (she suspected) that meant being strapped to a seat for her extra safety. But she stood in the hot confines of her Niqab and waited.
Then the two Officers were ready to go. They took Jenny’s arm and lead her from the hotel room, along long empty corridors, down via a private lift down to some basement and a waiting anonymous looking van. She was helped inside, made to sit and straps put round her to pin her to the vehicle side. The doors were closed and then she felt the vehicle move. It made its way along roads and round corners, sometimes stopping but never seemingly in a great hurry from what she could feel of the vibrations under her. She had no idea how long it would take to get to whatever court where the trial would be but she reasoned it wouldn’t be far as she couldn’t eat or drink like this.
Without warning at one stop the doors were opened and some more light came in. She was unstrapped, helped out of the vehicle and was aware she was standing on a large open area. Then, through her thick dark glasses, she could make out aircraft. Was she going to be put on a plane? She felt anxious, as she never liked air travel, but the trial was clearly somewhere a distance away.
The Niqab wearing and secured Jenny was slowly helped up some steps into a small aircraft and as she expected, sat in a seat and straps fastened round her. She could see little of the Officers escorting her but after few minutes she felt the aircraft’s engines start up. A private jet, which was something else to make this memorable, Jenny thought. She felt the plane move, accelerate and that unmistakeable feeling of the jet lifting clear of the runway and climbing. As much as she disliked air travel she knew what it felt like. She tried to relax as she could do nothing but sit and endure the flight.
Then a new thought came to her: why had WHIPP gone to so much trouble to hide her in a Niqab if she was on a small, limited seating plane? She was wearing the outfit and enduring the measures of someone who would expect to be taken on a public transport, among ordinary people. In reach but out of touch, as it were. What was so special she should be chained and cuffed and gagged and made to be utterly anonymous when it was about as secure a place as a private plane offered?
As she puzzled over this, Jenny felt her dark glasses removed. She blinked in the sudden slight that flooded into her senses. As her eyes focussed, she could see she was indeed in a small jet, strapped into a large leather seat. This was no economy class, she knew. In front of her was a Niqab dressed woman, studying her. But Jenny knew at once by the body shape this was not either of the WHIPP Officers who had attended to her at the hotel. Something about this black-veiled woman seemed older and bigger.
Another state appointed Officer? It could be, but suddenly Jenny wasn’t sure. There was something different about this female.
The woman opposite Jenny lifted up a large tablet which clearly accepted handwriting and she wrote, tracing the letters with her black gloved finger carefully, a message. She held the tablet up so Jenny could read it.
“I am Kyserban police officer. The trial in your country has been cancelled. No case, no witnesses. New developments. But you are still implicated.”
The woman wiped the letters off and wrote anew. “You are under permanent protection. You are going to be held in Kyserba pending trial there for crimes against our society.”
Jenny was confused. There had to be some mistake, surely. More letters were being written. “You are now a prisoner of Kyserba authorities. You are suspected of involvement, evidence being gathered. Escorting you to women’s jail. In two years you face trial.”
Jenny felt waves of shock. Two years like this! This was impossible! She wanted to protest she was innocent. A witness, not some criminal. She had done nothing wrong. She barely knew of Kyserba and had never been there. This was an outrage but her gag prevented any sound. Her restraints stopped any movement as much as she fought.
“You must behave as good Kyserban women do. Accept veil, chains, gag and earplugs. If free after trial you will not be permitted to go home. Kyserba your home now. If guilty, ten years hard labour.”
One final message: “Kyserba women do not resist their destiny. Struggle is useless. Niqab is your life now, submission your goal. You will be silent and serve as we all do, guilty or innocent.”
The tablet was put down and the woman in the Niqab put her head back and closed her eyes, her job done for now. Jenny felt tears form in her own eyes as despair swept through her. She wanted to scream and beg and demand to be set free. No sound came out. She stared out of the small window by her side and saw glimpses of her home country through gaps in the clouds below. Her world was passing beneath her as she was being sped to a place she knew where women had to be covered up. But before that she would be in jail and no doubt be kept pretty much as she was.
And if they found her guilty — though she knew not of what — the policewoman here knew it would mean ten years of hard labour. What did that mean for the young woman? Breaking rocks in her prison-issue Niqab under a scorching sun while toiling in chains and gag?
Jenny felt a terror well up in greater than the threat of the criminal gang finding her and killing her. This would be a living hell for her. The young woman slumped back in her seat, her energy suddenly drained.
She was a prisoner, as the Kyserban woman said, but as she sat in the throes of misery a small flame in her flared. Something inside her told her she would be kept alive by these people, even if it was only to work. She would, in a weird way, be kept safe. Protected behind bars, locked in her chains and Niqab, no one would get to her.
That, at least, was something, and Jenny too tried to relax and say goodbye to all that she once knew.