Chapter 1: New In Westhampton

A New Home

Liz was particularly pleased with her new home. She still thought of herself as Liz rather than Elizabeth but maybe it was time to move on. Of course it had been a wrench moving away from the town where she and her husband had lived for so long out here to the 'burbs', but with Ben's new job they couldn't really have stayed where they were. And, of course, now that he was earning more they had been able to afford something bigger and in a nice part of town.

The welcome from the neighbors had been great. Liz had met half a dozen or so of them on the day she and Ben had moved in. She suspected that they had come around as much to see what sort of furniture she had as to welcome her to the estate, but Liz didn't mind. It was nice that they were being friendly.

She wasn't terribly good at names but she was trying to make the effort to remember them. There was Hannah Kleich next door; Julia Croft across the street whose husband worked for some computer company downtown; Laura Teal next door to her; Theresa - Terry - Parnes two doors down. And, who was the other one? Oh yes, Cassandra, Cassie, Cassie Block from the house at the end of the road. They had all seemed pleasant, friendly people; all good humored and unstuffy. "It's more Hysteria Drive than Wisteria Drive, here honey," Cassie had joked.

They were all about the same age as Ben and herself; all bright and all, obviously, pretty well set-up financially. After all the price of property around there meant they had to have a few bucks in the bank. Looking at the way the neighbors dressed, Liz felt conspicuously scruffy in her jeans and tee-shirt as she was unpacking boxes but, she reasoned to herself, you are allowed to look scruffy when you're moving.

All in all, though, she'd been pleased that every one of the women she'd met seemed happy to see her. It looked like Westhampton was going to turn out to be a good move for her and Ben.

A Worrying Sound

Elizabeth Henkle peered in through the kitchen window of Hannah's house, looking for her neighbor. Hannah had said for her to pop around at any time and it seemed to Liz that this was as good a time as any.

Hannah's cat was sitting on the decking staring disconsolately at the house as if everyone was out but Liz could see that the kitchen door was ajar so presumably Hannah was at home. She pushed the door open and went inside clutching the jar of cookies that she had brought along as a friendly gesture.

"Hannah," she called. "It's Liz. I wondered if you had time for a coffee." The warm smell of cinnamon doughnuts wafted across the kitchen but that was the only sign that anyone was around.

There wasn't a reply. She put the cookie jar down on the kitchen counter and was just about to leave when she heard a peculiar noise. It sounded like someone was coughing or grunting quietly. The cat seemed uninterested but Liz was worried in case Hannah had fallen or had some other accident. She went in search of the noise.

There wasn't any sign of Hannah downstairs but as Liz headed back towards the kitchen she heard the sound again coming from somewhere upstairs. More worried now, Liz headed up the stairs towards where the noise was coming from. The closer she got, the more it sounded like groaning.

A Disturbing Discovery

Nothing had prepared Liz for what she saw when she opened to door to the room where the groaning noises were coming from.

Inside were five of her new found friends. All helplessly bound and gagged. All struggling trying to free. Liz stood there, open mouthed and uncertain what the tableau before her meant.

Hannah was tied up on a chair by her dressing table, her wrists bound together behind the back of the chair, her ankles tied to the chair legs. Her mouth was covered with a scarf that was preventing her crying out and was obviously the cause of the groaning noises.

The other women were trussed up every bit as effectively. Laura was on the bed, her legs bent back until her ankles and wrists could be tied together. Cassie was tied up in a similar fashion on the floor. Amanda was trussed up with her wrists tied to one leg of the bed. Terry was standing up in Hannah's walk-in closet, her wrists tied over her head to the closet rail and ropes around her ankles so that she was having to make every effort to keep standing.

Liz was scared, imagining that the women had been attacked as part of some robbery, frightened that whoever had done this might still be in the house. Even so, she didn't hesitate and went to help Hannah.

"What on earth happened?" she asked, fumbling with the scarf tied across Hannah's mouth. She got it free and saw that a cloth had been wedged between Hannah's lips, filling her mouth to muffle her cries. She pulled that clear and then started trying to untie the knots in the ropes that bound her. "Was it a burglar. Has he been gone long? I'll call the police as soon as I've set you free."

Hannah was coughing and choking from the cloth that had been stuffed in her mouth. She shook her head. "No – cuch – uhhh – no, don't do that."

Liz managed to get the knots on the ropes around Hannah's wrists free and then started on the ones that held her to the chair. "Don't be silly," she said as she finally managed to get Hannah free, "we've got to."

Liz had started to free Laura, the woman that was laying on the bed. Hannah was sitting on the chair rubbing her wrists and disentangling herself from the lengths of rope.

As she began trying to unpick the woman's gag, she suddenly became aware that there was somebody standing in the doorway of the bedroom. Fearing that it might be the robber returning she span around quickly. It was Julia, standing with her hands on her hips watching Liz's efforts.

"Oh," said Liz. "You startled me. Quick come and help there's been some sort of dreadful attack."

Julia didn't respond but went on watching Liz.

"Look, come and help. We've got to call the police to find out who did this and catch them."

"We don't need to," Julia responded, not moving.

"We don't need to?"

"I did it."

"You did it?"

"This is going to take an awfully long time if you keep on repeating everything that I say and putting a question mark at the end of it. Here, let me help you and then we'll explain."

All characters fictitious.

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