Half-walking, half-dragged, Ruth followed Kim out of the room, thankful that there was no one else to see her nakedness as she was ushered along the landing and down the stairs. Arriving at the hall, Kim opened the door with one hand, keeping a tight hold on Ruth with the other. Entering the room, she was surprised and frightened to find that only Kim's brother, Luc, was present. The idea of being left to the mercies of these two implacable stewards was beyond Ruth's wildest nightmares. Surely, she thought, Robin can't have tired of the idea of revenge so soon? He can't have left and maybe taken Nicky with him, before she had chance to get help? She recognised the bitter irony; she now regarded the prospect of a further thrashing from Robin as being, in a strange twist, a safeguard against even worse treatment from the Karabengses.
Luc was smiling evilly as his brother half-dragged Ruth towards the antique pillory which she had spotted on her first visit to the priory. He had already lifted the top plank out of its slot, and Ruth tried to hold back as she realised that they intended that she be locked into this ancient device. She might as well have tried to resist the tide coming in. Kim dragged her towards the old timber frame and Luc grabbed her free hand. Together, the two men forced her into the slightly stooped position which the height of the pillory required her to adopt. Kim held one of her wrists in position and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck, forcing her head down, while Luc slammed her other wrist into the corresponding hole in the cross beam. With a thud, the heavy timber of the yoke slammed into position, and the two pins which held it were swiftly inserted. Ruth felt a terrific wave of claustrophobia wash over her. The slots in the yoke of the pillory were lined with a soft leather band so that the coarse-grained wood did not actually chafe her skin, but the feeling of utter helplessness was totally overwhelming.
She felt strong hands grasping her legs and almost choked as she stumbled, forcing her body weight to come on to her neck, held firmly in the yoke of the pillory. Taking a leg each, Kim and Luc yanked her ankles forward, simultaneously spreading her legs wide. She immediately felt stout leather straps being buckled to her ankles to retain them in place. With her head restrained about six inches lower than was natural, Ruth's back was arched, her bottom thrust out in a most vulnerable and uncomfortable position.
"Ah, I see my brothers have been taking care of you." Madam Karabengse's voice came from somewhere to Ruth's right, and she craned her head to try and see where the woman was standing.
"Why am I being held like this? What are you going to do to me?" If Ruth's voice betrayed alarm, it was still understating her true feelings. Never, in her entire life, had she experienced the mixture of emotions which were running through her at this moment. She was utterly vulnerable, and the awareness that she was literally wide open to both physical and sexual assault both horrified and tantalised her.
* * *
Stephen had been thinking about bed when the telephone rang. It was very late - almost midnight, in fact - but, living alone with no one else to consider, that did not bother him. What was bothering him, the reason why he had sat up for so long, were the recurring images of the events at Damocles Priory. He might have been less troubled had he realised that he was not the only one to be affected by the Reverend Mould's unconventional course. However, he had not been as fortunate as Ruth in having a stable home relationship and enough job satisfaction at work to distract him, and so had steadily become more and more introverted and self-doubting since leaving the priory.
Superintendent Mathews had thought that he was encouraging Stephen by making lewd remarks about the sights that he must have witnessed at Damocles.
"I do hope that, now you've thrashed a few bare arses yourself, you won't be so soft with some of the young thugs we have to deal with." He dug Stephen in the ribs. "Were there any nice young fillies there? To tell you the truth, young Langton, I think perhaps I might have been a bit quick in my judgment the other week. That young niece of mine, Sally, has been getting a bit big for her boots just lately. I know you two have been eyeing each other up over the last few months. No it's no use denying it." He dug Stephen in the ribs again, his air of false 'we're all boys together' making Stephen's stomach churn. "All I was going to say was, well, if one night you cared to find a quiet spot while you're out in the patrol car, and you wanted to practise what you were taught at Damocles by putting that young lady across your knee, I for one wouldn't blame you. I don't reckon you'd get too many objections from her either, provided you went about it the right way and made it up to her afterwards, if you know what I mean." The stage wink which he gave Stephen was so contrived that Stephen had to look away to conceal his disgust.
"I'll think about that, sir, I really will." It was no less than the truth; he would think about it, but he could hardly reveal his real thoughts to the older man. Although he couldn't really make up his mind, the fact of the matter was that Stephen had found that being caned by Ruth was every bit as much of a turn-on as his use of the birch on her gloriously spread bottom-cheeks. He had not realised what was happening, at first, but the longer he thought about it, the easier it was for him to reconcile his feelings .
All this, and more, had been churning through his brain, over and over again, when the jangle of the telephone startled him and he jerked back to reality.
"Langton," he mumbled into the handset.
"Is that...Mr. Langton?" It was a girl's voice, unfamiliar. She sounded young and agitated.
"Yes, Stephen Langton speaking."
"Mr. Langton, you don't know me, but my name is Nicky. I'm phoning about my teacher, Miss Jamieson."
"Ruth? Ruth Jamieson?" Steohen suddenly snapped into alert mode, his heart rate rising.
"Yes, yes Miss Jamieson. She's in trouble, terrible trouble, and she needs help."
"What kind of trouble? Look, just who are you and how did you get this number?" Like most policemen, Stephen was careful about who he gave out his private, ex-directory number to.
"There isn't time for a long explanation. Miss Jamieson said you would help her. She said to tell you to come to Damocles Priory, that you'd understand."
Understanding was certainly not on Stephen's agenda at that point, but the mention of Damocles Priory certainly got his attention and gave the call some credibility.
"Please say you'll come. Please." The voice at the other end of the line sounded really desperate.
"All right, but you'll have to give me some more information."
"There isn't time, there just isn't time. They might find me here at any minute and then I'm in deep trouble too. Look, if somebody doesn't help her soon it'll be too late and she'll finish up in a brothel in Thailand. I must go now, but don't be too long. Please come quickly." There was a click, followed by the dial tone.
Stephen replaced the handset. He knew that something was wrong, very wrong, but what was he to do about it? Damocles Hall was well outside his area of jurisdiction and, although the mention of Thailand and a brothel in the same context was totally convincing to him, he knew that he could never convince Superintendent Mathews, who had never seen the sinister Thais who staffed Damocles Priory. The best he could hope for was that his chief would agree to a request to the local force to send an officer along to make a routine enquiry and, from what the girl on the phone had said, that might be far too late. The only thing to do is to get down there myself, he thought, but I'd better arrange some back-up just in case.
Quickly, he thumbed through a note-pad which he kept by the phone. When he had first returned from Damocles, he had entertained some crazy idea about making contact with Ruth again, and had gone to the lengths of finding out both her telephone number and that of Tony Chalmers. He had no idea what he was thinking of achieving, and had soon realised it was a hopeless quest, but the numbers were still there.
Feverishly, he dialled Ruth's number first, just in case it was a practical joke. If Ruth answered, then he could just put the phone down, without speaking, and then he'd have to get his own number changed again, to prevent any more nuisance calls. The phone rang, three times. Then his heart gave a leap as, unmistakably, Ruth's voice answered.
"Hello. This is Ruth. I'm not available right now so please leave a message after the tone."
Stephen took a deep breath. Silly of me. Never gave a thought to an answering machine. He replaced the receiver without speaking, then dialled Tony Chalmers's number. This time he was more prepared and, when the voice on the other end identified itself as a recording, he was able to leave a sensible if enigmatic message saying that if Tony was unaware of Ruth's whereabouts he should get himself and a squad down to Damocles Priory as soon as possible. Acting on a whim, he did not identify himself.
It took only a few minutes for Stephen to get kitted up in his motorcycle gear but, just as he was about to lock the door, he decided to make one last check and rang Ruth's number again. This time, he did leave a message on the tape.
The journey to Damocles was easy; the powerful bike ate up the miles, unimpeded by any traffic, and, by two thirty in the morning, Stephen was in place, crawling through the undergrowth at the edge of the priory grounds. He had carefully hidden his motor cycle, covered in bracken, in a gully just off the road near the main gate.
Now that he was in the priory grounds, Stephen began to wonder just what he was going to do next. He couldn't just march up to the front door, in the middle of the night, with no legal authority, and say "Have you got Miss Ruth Jamieson here?" The only option open to him was to wait and see if there were any suspicious signs when it got light and then, if necessary, try to get some evidence that would convince the authorities to take action. Creeping up to the edge of the tree line, he saw the main building, perhaps fifty yards away across the lawn. Everything was in darkness and he was thankful that his motor cycle kit, designed to keep out the gales of a 150mph slipstream, was well lined and warm. He made himself as comfortable as he could and settled down to wait. It was going to be a long night.
In reality, he had to wait for only about three hours before the grey dawn light began to put some detail into the dark shadows he had been watching. Anyone who thinks a town is noisy at night should do this at least once in their lives, Stephen thought to himself. The cacophony of sounds which had kept him awake and alert for the last few hours had been alien to his townsman's ears; from the hooting of the owl in the trees behind him to the coughing which had made him think he was not the only one watching the house. He had almost laughed out loud with relief when the fox had padded silently across the lawn, paused to look directly at his hiding place, then barked again, the sound exactly like an asthmatic smoker. Stiffly, he eased himself into a better position, and began to wish he had brought some food and drink with him instead of setting out in such a hurry on this scatterbrained scheme.
During the course of the morning he made a cautious exploration of the woods which separated the grounds of the priory from the surrounding fields. By a stroke of luck, at the back edge of the woods to the rear of the house there was a galvanised trough, no doubt for the benefit of the cattle which he could see gathered on the far side of the adjoining field. The trough was fed from a stand-pipe and, although the water which emerged as he turned the tap had been pretty rust-coloured at first, it had cleared after a few seconds, allowing Stephen to slake his thirst, albeit with some concerns about what it might do to his gut later.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon, Stephen manoeuvred himself around the building, trying to obtain a better vantage point. Whichever way he looked at the building, it seemed boringly normal. At about nine in the morning, a young man had emerged from the front door, walked to the side of the building, and a few moments later re-emerged driving a flashy-looking Japanese sports car, which he had driven off, rather fast and noisily, down the lane. At about three in the afternoon, the same car had returned. The young man had abandoned it on the drive at the front of the building and gone inside. Apart from that, Stephen had seen the housekeeper and at least one of her thuggish brothers, whom Stephen had difficulty telling apart. But they had simply been performing routine domestic chores, appearing from time to time at one or another of the windows, and once, emerging briefly from a side door to put some rubbish in the bin outside. Everything was totally, crushingly, normal.
A movement in one of the upper windows caught his eye. He could see a pale shape behind the glass, and cursed that he had not brought any binoculars with him. The rays of the sun, lowering in the sky as the door wore on, glinted on the window, blotting out the shape momentarily, then, as a cloud drifted across the sky, for a brief two or three seconds the sun was obscured and the glass became fully transparent. It was Ruth! Stephen stiffened with excitement. It was not a hoax after all! She was standing facing directly out of the window and, as far as he could tell at that distance, was unharmed. But she was plainly, deliciously, tantalisingly naked. For a moment he forgot why he was there, and entertained a rapid mental slide show of suggestive images. Then the cloud drifted on and Ruth disappeared behind the sun's reflection as swiftly as she had been revealed.
With a new sense of purpose, Stephen withdrew into the deeper cover of the trees. It wouldn't do to be caught now, just when things were starting to happen. Returning to the spot where he had hidden his bike, he rummaged in the pannier, fetching out the small tool kit which he always carried. The biggest screwdriver in the kit was still a flimsy thing, but might be better than nothing if it came to breaking in. Swiftly, he cleared away the covering of bracken he had used to hide the bike and heaved the machine upright. He looked around, checking that there was no one within earshot. Then he inserted the key and started the engine. Thankfully, it fired first time, and the big motor immediately settled into a smooth, purring tick-over. If he and Ruth were going to make a rapid getaway, he needed to be sure he could rely on the machinery not to let them down. The thought of Ruth, naked as a baby, clinging to her gallant rescuer as they tore down the lane both excited him and made him smile.
His rising ego and the noise of the bike engine combined to confound his romantic dream. He never heard a sound as Luc crept behind him, his broad hands extended in classic karate pose. Bike and rider tumbled into an untidy heap in the bottom of the gully as the heel of Luc's calloused hand hit Stephen just behind the right ear.
* * *
Ruth stood, squirming in anticipation, futilely testing the strength of her bonds. After waiting for several agonising minutes, she heard a commotion outside the door, which suddenly burst open. Nicky was roughly pushed in, followed by Robin Henderson and Madam Karabengse. Robin angrily pushed his erstwhile partner across the room and Madam Karabengse was quick to follow, grabbing the girl's arms and holding them tightly behind her back. As this trio cleared the door, another figure appeared. Luc had evidently been out in the grounds because his shoes were muddied and there were green stains at the knees of his trousers, as if he had slipped or fallen on wet grass.
However this did not hold Ruth's attention for more than a movement. Her horror-struck gaze was riveted to the burden which Luc carried like a sack, slung over his shoulder. As he leaned forward to deposit his load on the floor, she saw, to her utter dismay, that it was the unconscious body of Stephen Langton.
Ruth knew beyond doubt that now she was in very deep trouble indeed.
Yikes! Now what?