Waiting In Line: A Re-Ordered World Story
The last thing Emma expected, though given the nature of the vagaries of British weather she shouldn’t have been quite so surprised, was a thick bank of fog rolling down the street like a swift moving blanket. She and her handcuffed ‘prisoner’ were no more than a couple of hundred yards from Amina’s house when the fog swept over them.
Emma thought about turning back but there were two problems with that: one was that she had promised Amina that she would only be back when the slave was safely at her destination, and secondly Emma feared that the help the princess Marianne had inside the palace might think she wasn’t coming back in reasonable time and thus stop being on hand to help. Maybe Ladies-In-Waiting stayed up all night if required, but there was a danger that Emma and the cuffed slave known as Daneen would be on the street outside the palace for too long waiting around, and in so doing attract the wrong attention.
Right now Emma had all the authority she needed while masquerading as a niqabi-clad police officer, but the palace security people might not be so easily fooled.
Under her ‘official’ police officer silver and yellow niqab Emma felt protected from the cold and damp that accompanied the sudden fog, but she worried about the princess. Prime Minister Cowley’s slave was clad in a standard black niqab (complete with dark glasses, which now seemed ludicrous) and black abaya with not much on underneath to keep her warm. The slave would be getting cold so they had to hurry. Emma was gripping the slave’s arm (the bitch had her gloved hands cuffed behind her) and was pushing Marianne to go faster if she could. But, and this might not have been wise, Emma had tied a loop of rope round the slaves ankles, so Marianne could only take small steps. In the safety of the library it had seemed like a good idea, ensuring that Cowley’s property would feel a continuation of her bondage even free from the restraints of the wheelchair, but now it was a handicap.
It was shortly after the fog came in that Emma discovered a new problem. Although she knew enough about the centre of London to find her way around she realised had lost her direction. Streets that was sure she knew from her time as a correspondent in the UK capital suddenly looked strange. The familiar landmarks weren’t visible, and the British practice of putting street names high up on buildings made them impossible to see. On top of that, the wide-apart gloomy yellow street lights weren’t helping much at all. Any car that came down the street was crawling along, and although Emma was tempted to stop one and in true cop fashion demand she and her prisoner be taken at once to the palace walls, her attempts to signal a car to stop had no success. She would have to walk and keep the slave moving to try to keep her warm.
It was at a junction she didn’t recognise that disaster struck. As she stood trying to work out which road to take, a pair of headlights appeared through the murk and slowed. For a second Emma thought she could persuade this driver to take them to the palace, until she saw it was a police car slowing up. Her heart sank.
“What are you doing out on the street in this?” demanded the female police officer driving. She was the sole occupant in the car. The cop wasn’t in a niqab, but was wearing just the standard UK police hijab with her conventional navy blue trouser-suit uniform. Still, she had recognised the niqab uniform of a colleague and stopped.
“I am taking this one to the police station,” said Emma as brightly as she could, hoping her fake English accent was good enough. It didn’t seem to alarm the policewoman behind the wheel, which was good.
However Emma’s uniform brought the wrong response. “Since when did traffic police arrest people?” The hijabi looked genuinely puzzled and indicated Emma’s safety-visible uniform.
“Ah… Accident, on Sloane Square. I thought it best to walk her in to New Scotland Yard.”
“What? Impossible! You’re lost,” said the policewoman in the car, shaking her head. “You want to go there from here? It’s in the other direction.”
“Oh dear. I’m new on the force,” said Emma. “Drafted in from Manchester last month. Thought I knew London, but this fog. Confused me, as you can see. If you’d point me in the right direction I take this one in.”
“No need. I’m going there. Put her in the back and you get in too.”
Emma’s heart sank a little more. “Listen, I wish I could but… it isn’t that straightforward,” she said, forgetting her pretend accent.
“Meaning what?” the hijabi stared at Emma.
“I am on a special mission.” The words sounded ridiculous as soon as they formed on Emma’s lips, but she couldn’t prevent them tumbling out. “Detail, I mean, not mission. You know Commissioner Lloyd?”
“Not personally,” said the officer in the car, coldly.
“Well, I was attending a dinner at the Smith home—Colin Smith, the minister—and the Prime Minister and Commissioner Lloyd was there and—”
“I don’t believe you. Why on earth would old man Lloyd want a traffic officer there?” She stared closer at Emma. “Tell me, what’s your number?”
“Number?” Emma laughed, despite a fresh wave of fear gripping her. She was aware there was a silver number on her shoulders, as all London police had, irrespective of their uniform (even the Commissioner had one on his shoulder) but Emma had not taken notice of the one on hers. Short of trying to look now (impossible, she decided, in her niqab) she tried to bluff it out. “Listen, if you want to be awkward and I recommend you aren’t, you better tell the Commissioner you are getting in the way of his plan.”
“What plan?” The policewoman behind the wheel of the car already had her hand on her walkie-talkie, ready to call for assistance.
“This female here wasn’t in an accident. Sorry I lied, but… Well, she’s property. She’s a body slave.”
“To who?” The cop hadn’t taken her hand off her walkie-talkie. She sounded incredulous. Probably this was the last thing she expected to find, fog or no fog.
“There was another man at the Smith dinner. Thompkins. That was his name. Head of the census. This is his slave. But he had to go off. Emergency. So the Commissioner told me to get her to—”
“What fucking emergency does the census lot have?’ The officer pressed some button on her communication device and it crackled to life. “Officer 3889 here. Back-up requested. I have a situation on Ger—” She got no further. Three figures loomed out of the fog and one wrenched the cop’s driver door open. He looked a big man and he duly stopped the call dead with a single, heavy blow to the cop’s head. The hijab-clad officer fell across the passenger seat, out to the world. At the same moment the other two people—one a woman, Emma was sure—seized Daneen and wrenched her away from Emma’s garsp.
The best Emma could do was shout “Hey! She’s mine.” The big man who had silenced the cop making the radio call was round the car in a flash and he dealt with Emma in exactly the same way as the other female. A fist to the side of Emma’s unguarded head and the thick fog got instantly thicker and blacker for the journalist.
Emma woke up with her head spinning and thumping and a feeling of nausea in the pit of her belly. As she gathered her senses she became aware she was lying on a cold, hard floor and she couldn’t move her arms. Or her legs for that matter. She was staring at a rough brick wall, inches from her face. She could make out the bricks because the wall was bathed in the cold light of a fluorescent light, high above her head. In the silence of the room she could hear it hissing the way old lights like this did.
Gingerly Emma lifted her head. It was a brightly lit room indeed and above her head was a small window, heavily barred. The woman was in some sort of prison, that was clear. It was also clear that she was bound with yards of rope at her waist, pinning her arms behind her and more rope held her legs together. She rolled over to see how big the room was and could see it wasn’t very big at all. She was alone, which didn’t make her feel good. On the far wall was a wooden door, which was shut. She imagined it would be locked, just in case she got out of her bonds. That didn’t seem likely, given how she couldn’t move much.
The woman discovered that she wasn’t quite lying on a concrete floor; beneath her there was a thin, bed-sized rectangle of foam padding under her. Given how little it gave her comfort, it might as well not have been there. But at least someone had endeavoured to provide a modicum of comfort. For that Emma thought whoever had put her here didn’t want to suffer too much.
Emma tested the ropes to see if there was the slightest slack, but nothing gave. “Hello? Anyone there?” she called, though weakly when she gave up the struggle. As she expected, there was no response. Even when she repeated it louder, there was no sound back.
There was a faint light at the small window, which suggested early morning. That meant she had been unconscious for at least eight or nine hours, she reckoned. Slowly Emma struggled up to a sitting position. She felt hungry and could feel the side of her face, under her police niqab, burning. That at least was something: whoever had attacked her hadn’t bothered to remove her clothes. The puzzle was why she was here at all, and for that matter where was she being kept like this. This was no sterile prison cell, for not even the most ardent cops bound prisoners. If it wasn’t the police who had arrested her, had they brought the policewoman from the car too?
The square, cold room was devoid of any sign of a person and had no furniture. Emma was alone.
More importantly, where was Daneen? Was the princess Marianne also in a cell like this? If she was being kept captive all London’s security services, including the armed forces, would surely be on full alert by now. Probably there would be roadblocks and tanks in the streets and no doubt the cop who was knocked out, even if she had been left in the police car, had got enough of a message out to set alarm bells ringing for her safety. Unless these people disposed of it, the empty police car would have been found by now, that was certain.
Emma thought of Harriet Cowley, exploding in anger that not only had she lost a slave—her personal slave— but it was an heir to the throne, however remote that might be (Emma had only a vague idea of the rules of succession, but it was the principle that mattered more than anything she told herself.) The kidnapping of the princess would not only be the end of Cowley’s political plans, it would the finish of her career to say the least, possibly causing the downfall of the government. It might even trigger a crisis in royal circles. It might be one thing to be a journalist at the heart of all this with a unique story to tell, but the chances of Emma getting out to tell it were receding by the minute. Whoever had seized Emma and the PM’s slave would neither want to let anyone go or now would be in fear of their own lives for what they had done. Kidnapping itself might bring some jail time for many people. Cowley, Amina and the rest of the Smith family, as well as Emma she guessed, would never be allowed out of jail. Only not being British would possibly save the journalist from charges of treason.
The courts would, if she ever saw them, no doubt give Emma twenty years for impersonating a police officer alone. Her prospects looked as gloomy as the grey light at the barred window.
For a few minutes Emma strained to listen, wondering if she could detect distant police sirens or even some sort of helicopter hovering nearby. She heard nothing. She wondered where they might be and concluded it might not even be in the city. They could be fifty miles away from the scene of the kidnapping for all she knew.
The cell door opened with a creak, halting all Emma’s thoughts. A female, dressed in a dark green niqab and matching abaya, carrying a tray with a plate of food and cup of something including a straw to drink through, appeared at the door. The door was left open, but Emma wouldn’t be able to take advantage of that with her bonds the way they were. She watched the niqabi silently put the tray down out of reach and then straighten up.
“I am going to untie your arms you so you can eat,” said the woman in dark green, her accent distinctly British and upper class. She sounded quite calm and in command, but then Emma was hardly a threat to her. “But not your legs. They remain bound. When you have finished eating you will kneel in the corner, furthest from the door, with your wrists crossed behind you. You will then be retied. If you are not co-operative and either don’t eat and drink or refuse to kneel as I told you, you will be punished. You will be punished if you have undone your legs. They stay bound at all times.”
“Wait… Please. I’ll co-operate. But… The prin— The woman I was with. My prisoner. Where is she?”
“She is safe and secure. If I were you I would worry about yourself.” With that the dark-green clad female indicated Emma should wriggle round, so she was again facing the brick wall. Then the niqabi squatted behind Emma and undid the knots on the captive’s arms legs, stood and left without another word. The door banged shut and a lock clicked.
Emma flexed her arms, glad to be free of the ropes. She felt even more sick with worry that the princess was now certain to be in some sort of cell like her. Perhaps tied as she was herself. Had they discovered who she was, or had they done the same thing as Emma had and been left with her niqab intact? That seemed unlikely, but there were all sorts of questions about they whys and wherefores of all this. For now Emma needed to eat, so she dragged herself to the tray. Lifting her police uniform niqab, she greedily ate the cut-up toast and scrambled egg with her gloved fingers (she didn’t even dare take those off) and slurped the orange juice through the straw. She thought it odd that they hadn’t removed her niqab, but perhaps they were not interested in some minor cop’s identity underneath. Not when they had a far, far more valuable prize in another cell. One they would want to take maximum advantage of, if they could.
As Emma had no idea how long she would be permitted to be untied, she hastily finished her food and drink and made her way awkwardly to the corner of the room furthest from the door and knelt with wrists crossed behind her, as instructed. Already she missed the thin foam pad that was meant to serve as a bed, for while she had believed it might not be much comfort it was obvious now it had been helping. Emma’s knees hurt terribly on the hard floor but she managed periodically to shift her weight to try to alleviate the pain. One thing she didn’t do was move her hands from behind her back, even if her position demanded from time to time she rest her niqab-covered forehead against the brick wall.
Emma wanted to cry from both the pain in her knees or the hopelessness of her situation, but that would achieve nothing. She swallowed hard and fought back tears, as well as despair. While she was alive she had a chance, she told herself. How much of a chance she had no idea. But if these people saw her co-operating and obeying, they might lower their guard enough.
Hope was all she had right now.
The minutes ticked past, agonisingly, and Emma tried not to think about the pain spreading up from her knees. She had no idea how long she knelt there, but surely they didn’t think she would take half an hour to eat and drink, did they? Worse, her bladder was telling her it needed relief. More than once Emma thought ‘oh, to hell with this, I should untie my knees and get some ease.’ But in spite of the pain and pressure on her insides, she resisted the temptation. She just wasn’t sure how long she could manage like this.
There was a click and the cell door opened. Behind her, Emma could hear not one pair of footsteps, but two. Emma took a deep breath, and screwed up her eyes expecting a blow or worse from behind her.
“Stand up, Emma,” said a voice that the kneeling woman recognised from the food delivery. Emma groaned inwardly: if they knew her name then any hope she had of being let go without awkward questions was disappearing rapidly. “Keep facing the wall,” the voice added.
Emma did as she was told, though it took a moment to clamber up awkwardly. She felt ropes being wound round her wrists and then across her upper arms and round her body. Either deliberately or not, these ropes were now wound round Emma’s bust, and tied tight so the bonds cut sharply into her breasts. Emma tried not to make a noise but gasped a little as the ropes were tightened.
“Now turn round,” said the female. It took a few seconds as Emma shuffled through 180 degrees because of her bound legs. In front of her were two people as the footsteps had indicated, including of course the woman in the green niqab. Utterly anonymous, as before, but the surprise for Emma was she was accompanied by man who was wearing the same arrangement as the female, with niqab and abaya. It was obviously a man beneath his clothes as he had square, wide shoulders and the sort of shape that indicated there was muscle underneath the folds and not anything soft.
Emma figured it was the man who had bound her arms, and bust. Well, she consoled herself, men do things like that. Or it was a timely reminder that she was far from safe with these people.
There was another noise at the door and a third figure entered the bare cell, a woman incredibly pushing an empty wheelchair. For a moment Emma thought it must be the princess Daneen’s wheelchair, but she puzzled why they would keep it and bring it in here. Then she saw on the empty seat several large photographs. It was clear at once that they were photos of Cowley and Daneen, with the Prime Minister pushing the bound and gagged though niqab-hidden royal prisoner-cum-slave. “That’s the–” Emma began to say, but clamped her mouth shut. The less she said right now the better, she reminded herself.
The woman pushing the empty wheelchair was studying Emma, who now looked up at her. A woman, oddly Emma thought, with not even a hijab on let alone a niqab. A woman with bright red hair and piercing green eyes. It was a face she had seen before though for a few seconds the journalist racked her mind as she tried to place it. Then she remembered seeing the face on large roadside posters on the route in from the airport. Political posters with a woman with red hair at a microphone, one arm raised as if demonstrating she was speaking to all. A woman with a message of ‘Britain needs a new direction.’
It was Laura Todd, the leader of the opposition to Harriet Cowley’s government. The woman the PM wanted to see defeated. The woman who Emma was going to help stop.
“I don’t know what you want. But it won’t work.” Emma said, forgetting her rule of being quiet until she had to say something important.
“What won’t work?” Asked Laura Todd. She picked up the sheaf of a dozen photos from the wheelchair seat, and held the first one up. It had been taken from one side as Cowley was pushing her slave into the library at the Smith home, and the while the quality was not exactly photo-journalist standard it was clearly the PM. Her distinctive profile was plain to see. Then Todd showed the second one, taken a moment later, and again showing it was Cowley and wheelchair slave. The next few were the most revealing in that it had been taken across the Smith dining table, with Cowley in the foreground, eating, and behind her the parked wheelchair with the niqab-clad slave sat silently. The last two showed Cowley departing alone from the house with a waiting official limousine at the kerbside with the car door being held open by an official driver.
“I don’t know what those are,” said Emma, lying as best she could.
“Oh, you do, Ms Delaney. You know very well what these are.” The leader of the opposition dropped the photos back on the with a flourish. “You were there at the time, as my spy knew. Before you ask, it pays to have spies in the right places. That busy maid at dinner with her hidden camera has done a splendid job, don’t you think? However, you Emma Delaney are on the point of making a big decision. One that will have a huge bearing on your life.”
Emma swallowed hard. “What decision?”
Todd smiled. “An obvious one, my dear, given the stakes we are playing for here. Either you help me or, sad to say, a body will be found face down in the Thames a little later today.” She paused. “The sort of discovery that reminds people not to get lost in a London fog when there are thugs around looking for an easy mugging, one that brings heartfelt tributes from a saddened news organisation for a respected journalist, and certainly guarantees tears at a funeral. How your sister would hate attending that.”
Panic seized Emma. “You wouldn’t dare!” She shouted and began to struggle against her ropes, though she understood now why her bust-compressing bondage was there: any movement was painful.
“I dare because I want to win,” said Todd, coldly. “And dead or alive you will help me, Emma, I can assure you.”
Emma wanted to scream and cry and plead, but a different part of her being took control. She realised she was dealing with a politician: they did deals, and Emma very much needed to make a life-saving deal. “If I help you win,” she said, holding back a tide of emotions and keeping her voice steady, “then you have to do two things for me.”
“Only two? I heard from my spy you drove a harder bargain with Cowley,” Todd responded, but it was clear she was intrigued. “But tell me your ambitions Ms Delaney and we will see if it we can find a way to make things work.”
Emma nodded, and began.