It was a perfect day for reading, at least, that is what Erika thought. Looking out of her used bookstore window at the gray drizzle that cloaked the morning, she thought it gave the old main street a forlorn Dickensian look. On a day like today, she could see herself curled up in her armchair with a Kay Hooper mystery and a glass of wine. Too bad nobody else this morning felt that same way. The drizzle seemed to keep everyone inside.
Erika was not what one would picture as a book dealer. Most pictured her as a quiet, librarian type with her hair up in a bun and an ugly pair of 1950's glasses. No, Erika could have been a model if she had so wished. At six-foot, her lithe figure was as sleek as a giraffe and her long, ash-blonde hair and blue eyes helped finish her Valkerian good looks. Erika did wear glasses, but they were much more stylish and they were for reading only.
The bookseller always tried to dress smartly and today was no exception to her inner fashion model. She wore a tight ivory-colored blouse and grey suit jacket with a matching skirt that stopped just above her knees. Erika also felt a bit sexy today so instead of her normal pantyhose, she decided upon a pair of smoke-colored stockings and garter belt with a pair of black lace panties. There were days like today she liked to flaunt her womanhood and tonight she would make sure her husband would benefit from it.
The book-dealer's chore for the day was going through the three boxes of books she had won at an estate auction. For the most part, they were turn-of-the-century volumes by Kipling, Twain and Stephenson. They had that wonderful old book smell to them and were in superb condition with only a little sun-fading to mar their gilded spines. There were several she hadn't recognized the titles of, so she set them in a stack to research a bit later. She had also taken a few intriguing books home to read after her husband would call it a night. Like her, her husband had long hours in the field and was comfortably worn out by ten o'clock. Erika, on the other hand, couldn't shut her eyes until at least midnight so those became her reading hours.
Erika was fully engrossed in grading a series of English history books when the bell chimed above the door. Coming in was an attractive couple both dressed in dark suits that screamed 'professional'. The man was tall, carried a large satchel briefcase and filled his suit quite nicely. His head was bald and he sported a graying mustache and goatee. His companion was shorter brunette with alluring green eyes and a no nonsense look about her.
"May I help you?" Erika asked, stepping out from behind the counter.
"I certainly hope so," the woman spoke with a slight English accent, "You purchased just recently a portion of the McQuade estate's library?"
Red flags went up in Erika's head.
"Yes," the blonde answered cautiously.
The woman glanced at her partner before turning back to Erika, "Very good. There has been a mistake made when the estate was disposed of, mainly, several books that Mr. McQuade had borrowed from our client and had not returned to him before Mr. McQuade had passed."
"I see," Erika said, "And do you have a list of titles? I can set the volumes aside as I sort through and give you a call back if any are in my purchase."
"Actually, there is only one title we have not tracked down yet, 'The Care And Treatment Of Particularly Fair Women' by Dr. Geoffrey Brand. Our client is eager to get that particular book back into his collection."
Erika recalled immediately the book the woman was asking about. It was one that she had selected to take home and peruse. The title bemused her and she wanted to see what Dr. Brand had to say.
"Well, I will see what I can do but I have yet to go through these boxes. If you would like to leave a phone number I would gladly..."
"Quite frankly, we don't have time," the woman interrupted, "We are only here for a day or two before heading back to England. So if you would kindly go through these boxes now, we will wait and take the book when you get to it."
Erika was starting to get a bit impatient with these two and her impatience was slowly starting to turn to anger.
"First of all, Ms. Ah..."
"Roberts," the woman said.
"I really don't have proof that that book is your clients. You will have to provide some way of showing that it is his," Erika continued, "Second, I bought these books in good faith so if the volume you want is in here, I will gladly sell it to you for a fair price but not before I am ready to do so."
The couple both looked a bit disturbed by this.
"I see," the woman said as the man started towards the front door, "I am afraid we cannot provide any of the evidence of ownership you are looking for..."
Erika noticed the man turning the lock shut and flipping the open sign to closed.
" ... and as for compensation for your purchase of the book, well, again, my client is very adamant about not having to purchase the book twice, since it cost him dearly the first time."
Erika tried to keep her cool and slowly started to back towards the counter and the phone. She had no silent alarm and the alarm system she did have would require her to punch in several numbers and she didn't think she would have time to do that before the couple was upon her. The phone at this point was her best option.
"Please see it from our client's point of view," the brunette continued, "It is his property and he has a right to get it back."
"Is his name plate inside the book?" Erika asked, stalling as she continued to slowly back up.
The woman matched her step for step and the man was making his way towards her as well.
"My client didn't say," Miss Roberts said.
Erika turned and ran but the woman was prepared for just that and grabbed a hold of the bookstore owner. Erika turned and tried to pry the woman off when the man grabbed her as well, pinning her arms to her sides.
The blonde began to scream but the brunette produced a dark rag from her coat pocket and stuffed it quickly into her mouth as Erika kicked and struggled futilely. The pair then wrestled the blonde to the floor and pinned her there; taking her wrists and pinning them to her back.
The brunette, Miss Roberts, opened up the leather satchel that the man had brought in and brought out a pair of glinting handcuffs. In a wink, they had her wrists tightly locked behind her back. The same fate befell her ankles before they turned her over.
"We are sorry to have to do this, but we really do need that book," the woman said, knelling down and brushing the stray blonde hairs out of Erika's face.
The man went over and turned off the lights then whispered to the woman who nodded and went behind the counter and pulled out a pad of paper and a marker.
'They had prepared for just this, ' Erika thought as she squirmed a bit on the floor trying to force her way out of the handcuffs.
The man knelt down beside the bound woman and pulled from the satchel a small coil of rope. Erika watched with morbid fascination as the man quickly tied her knees together, cinching them tight but not so much as to cut off her circulation. He rolled her over and quickly did the same to her elbows, making them almost meet in back of her.
Erika then felt him unlock her cuffs, but her freedom was brief as he tied more rope around her fluttering hands. Again, he did the same with her ankles then forced her feet back and cinched them to her wrists in a tight hogtie. Lastly, the man tied a small rope over her mouth, forcing the rag to stay crammed in her mouth.
The brunette returned with the sign she had written. It looked close enough to Erika's handwriting that it was scary:
"Closed due to an emergency. Will open tomorrow."
Quickly the couple began to search the store. The brunette began with the box of books from the estate she hadn't gone through yet and the man disappeared down one of the aisles, presumably to find the title if it had already been placed on the shelves. While they ignored her, Erika writhed on the floor, trying to find some kind of slack in her bonds. The man had done his job well, however, and Erika began to get sore from the effort.
"Enjoying yourself, dear?" the brunette asked, looking down at her captive.
Erika shook her head no and mewled into her gag.
"That is really too bad, really. You know, you look absolutely scrumptious lying there all bundled up. I would pay more attention to you, dear, but we have our client to consider."
'What did that mean!' the thought screamed through Erika's head.
The man came back to the woman, "It is not on the shelves."
The man's voice was the kind of deep, gravely voices one associated with mobsters save for the English accent.
The pair went to look at the boxes again not-too-carefully, throwing the books in a pile as they check the titles. Again, Erika struggled, causing her skirt to ride up her leg and revealing the top of her stocking. It was her modesty that stopped her from struggling more and enticing the pair to do more than robbing the store.
After whispering a bit, the man left out the back door and Ms. Roberts squatted down beside her captive.
"Erika, may I call you Erika? That is the name on your business listing."
The bound woman just stared back at the brunette with her lagoon blue eyes, not moving.
"You have built quite a lovely store, Erika Adams: Proprietor. Probably took many years to build this sort of inventory, I suspect. And quite a number of pounds ... I'm sorry, dollars. I travel so much sometimes I forget where I am. Where was I? Yes, there must be thousands of dollars in old books on these shelves..."
Just then, the man returned with a gasoline can in hand.
" ... It would be a shame to see all these lovely volumes go up in flames. I am sure your are insured, but the money can't replace that wonderful set of 'Journeys Through Bookland' sitting in that counter, now could it?"
Erika slowly nodded her head.
"Can you remember that scene in Fahrenheit 451 with all of those books going up in flame, Erika Adams?"
Again, Erika nodded her head. Inside her was tied up in gut-wrenching knots of fear and she closed her eyes tightly, trying to make everything go away.
"We can avoid all of that unpleasantness if you tell us where our client's book is. Marx here is going to untie your gag and you are going to tell us where the book is. If you scream, dear, it will be the last sound you will ever make. Do I make myself clear?"
Terrified, Erika nodded.
"Good. Then we have come to an arrangement. Marx, would you be so kind as to un-gag Mrs. Erika Adams."
The bound blonde felt the knot being untied behind her head the Marx unwound it from holding in the cloth. Not-to-gently, Marx then pulled the black cloth from out of Erika's mouth.
"It's at home," Erika gasped, "Untie me and I will take you there to get it."
Erika hardly got the words out before Marx shoved the cloth back into Erika's mouth and retied the rope hold it in there, this time tighter than before. The nylon rope felt as if it was cutting into the sides of her mouth.
"Thank you, dear," the brunette said, patting Erika on the head, "Now that wasn't so bad, was it?"
The couple left Erika hogtied on the floor while they fetched Erika's handbag and got out her keys and wallet. She watched them look at her driver's license and write down the address as they consulted the yellow pages map. They whispered a few things to each other then the man grabbed the gasoline can and went out the back door, her keys in his hand.
Ms Roberts knelt down beside Erika again, "We are going on a little trip to your house, Erika, and you will be coming with us. It would be dangerous to leave you tied up like this here. Things happen. Now, I don't want much fuss out of you. It is better for the both of us, dear."
The brunette woman began to stroke her leather gloved fingers through Erika's hair, almost lovingly.
"I can imagine your husband enjoys your many gifts, Erika, your quite an attractive woman..."
An icy dread began to trickle through Erika as she laid there bound, her hands squirming in their tight bonds trying to find some way of getting out of this.
The man came back, "Ready."
"Here is the thing, dear Erika," the woman said, "We are about to go so promise me that you won't make a fuss."
The bound blonde just stared wide-eyed at the woman.
"Promise me or I will leave you alone here with Marx."
Erika nodded, sobbing into her gag. She still couldn't twist her mind around what was happening to her. Together, the strangers picked her up off the floor and carried her to the back door and to the alley behind the store. There idling was her Buick and the trunk was already open. Quickly the couple set her inside and closed the trunk lid down, plunging her into darkness.
Once again, Erika struggle futilely at her bondage as she felt the car being driven. Even though it was a large trunk, Erika was beginning to feel very claustrophobic bound there in the dark.
She didn't think that the couple would kill her. They would have done that already since they had everything they needed to get into her house and get their precious book. She had wished she had read that book last night to see what kind of book it was to drive someone do such a thing. She could see someone resorting to theft for a copy of Blake's 'Tales of innocence and experience' or a first edition of Poe's 'Mystery and Imagination', but she had never had even heard of this author nor the book.
Erika lived about a forty minute drive away in a new, comfortable suburb. It gave Erika plenty of time to try to affect an escape. She scooted around, feeling for anything to try to loosen or cut the cords binding her hands. She wished she had paid more attention to how the trunk was laid out and what was inside.
Then the car slowed, then stopped.
"They couldn't have gotten there already, ' Erika thought to herself, 'No, they couldn't have.'
Then the car started up again only to drive the short distance into the garage. She heard the door open and the latch on the trunk pop open. Erika looked up at the brunette, this time she was wearing a blonde wig.
"I am so glad you had a garage door opener, dear, it saved us from trying to sneak you in," she smiled.
Erika looked around but she didn't see the man.
"Don't you worry, Erika Adams, Marx is letting himself in the front and soon will meet us her to take you inside," the woman said, taking off her wig.