Simone’s work day was almost over, and she could feel it in her bones. The harsh fluorescents had burned themselves into their retinas over the last nine hours, and she was more than ready to call it a day. She sent out one more goddamn e-mail, then – with a mental fuck it – saved the rest for Monday.
“Ich bin fertig, ich hau ab!” she said. I’m done. I’m leaving!
“Tschüss, Simone,” Jasmin answered between a voiceless sigh and a quick, perfunctory glance off her own computer screen. “Schönes Wochenende!” Have a nice weekend.
Simone felt an impulse to chit-chat for a minute before she left, then thought better of it. From the looks of it, Jasmin was just as eager to be done for the day as she was.
“Achso, warte” Jasmin said just as Simone was about to leave. “Hab noch was für dich”
You’ve got something for me?
“Wurde für dich abgegeben als du in der Pause warst,” Jasmin said and held out what looked like a business card. Jasmin had said that someone had left it for her during her break.
“Okay, danke,” Simone said, brows furrowed, and took it.
When she looked at it, all of the blood drained from her face. The world had turned cold.
“Alles okay?” Jasmin said, looking concerned. Simone could tell that she wanted to know why she’d gotten that card, and what it meant. But Simone could never tell her. Literally.
Call the police was the first thing on Simone’s lips instead, but the impulse caught on something in her mind and died with a tinge of despair. She looked at her coworker, who still eyed her suspiciously.
“Ja, alles okay,” she had to say, forcing a smile. Her insides felt like they had been flash-frozen. “Bis Montag.”
Jasmin looked at her for another two heartbeats, then nodded and turned back to work. Simone could sense her disappointment. Call the police, Jasmin! Tell them about what’s happening to me! she wanted to shout, but she couldn’t.
“Bis Montag,” she said instead and walked out of the office, down the hall, into the bathroom, and collapsed in a stall, dry heaving as the world around her tumbled and spun.
In her trembling hands, the card read in tastefully spaced serif letters:
Enclave HoldingsBeatrice Duke - CEO
and below that, written in red pen, was a phone number, and a note:
Better call me, soon ;)
She swallowed, hard, then dialled the number on her cell phone. She knew that whatever that bitch wanted, she had already taken way too long. Why the fuck hadn’t Jasmin given her the note right away?! Her hands were trembling so hard that she had to redial twice.
The dial tone chimed three times before the most sickeningly sweet voice in the world answered:
“It’s not nice to keep me waiting like that, twenty-four.”
Every syllable was like a smack in the face, and what was worse, it made all the parts of her that she hated about herself uncoil like oily snakes in the darkest recesses of her mind. Hearing her voice was poison, but it tasted perversely like dark chocolate.
“My name is Simone, Beatrice,” she spat, keeping the tears out of her voice with difficulty. “And you’ve been paid. In full. Whatever you’re doing, whatever you want, whatever you plan: We had a deal!”
“You and I?” Beatrice said, letting out a shrill burst of laughter. Her voice had gotten rougher around the edges. It had been almost twenty years. Some part of Simone had always hoped that Beatrice would get caught, or better, get killed.
No such luck. The laughter ended on the other end of the line.
“Oh, no, no, no. Your husband and I had a deal. You were the object of that deal. Your freedom, against payment, as long as you both kept quiet.”
“We didn’t tell anyone!” Simone said, alarm growing in her voice. “I literally can’t–”
“I know it wasn’t you – because I know who it was. It was your daughter.”
Simone hung up instantly, and the panic in her chest was like someone was choking her to death. She called Cora’s number. She had to warn her!
It rang only once.
“Cora, you need to–”
“Cora’s with me,” said Beatrice’s voice on the other end, and bottomless dread swallowed her. In a single moment, all of her life collapsed back into the heap of helplessness she had last felt so long ago before Beatrice had taken literally everything from her.
She cried, pressing the palm of her hand against her mouth to keep the screams of agony in. Her throat burned. The air she breathed felt like it had no oxygen at all left in it. In that moment, she selfishly wanted to stop existing. To pass out, to die, to disappear, just so that this terrible moment would end.
Finally she found the strength to speak. Her voice trembled.
“She… you can just… please just make her forget. Please just…” the word seemed to carve deep gashes into her tongue as she said it “…brainwash her so she can’t talk. Like me. Please.”
“I can’t do that.”
“No! You can! I know you can! No one will know!”
“There are other Mistresses and Masters watching, twenty-four-seven. It’s a dog-enslaves-dog world out there. I have a reputation to uphold, respect and threats to maintain. I can’t just let this transgression go without… compensation.”
The bathroom stall around Simone had become a tiny cage in which she was trapped. Claustrophobia constricted her chest. Only the programmed and conditioned part of her that kept her from sharing the truth stopped her from getting out and screaming and crying and being seen in distress.
“Please, there must be something,” she sobbed quitely, wiping her face. She could feel her makeup bleed and when she looked at her fingers, they were stained black. “Have you spoken to Tom? We can pay more. I’m sure we can.”
“Your husband is here, too. If you had let me speak, I would have already told you to meet us to discuss my terms. You have already been keeping me waiting quite a bit. I could have Cora already fucking her first customers by now. She’s such a beautiful young woman. Just like you when you were her age. But I’m trying to be fair.”
“Thank you,” Simone forced herself to say, instead of all the other things that were on her lips. “Where… where do you want me to go?”
“There’s a black sedan parked in front of your place of work. My slave will pick you up and bring you to me. I know you can’t do it anyway, but let me remind you not to call law enforcement or anything like it, or the conditions of your deal will worsen even more than they already have.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Simone said weakly.
“I know. Just making sure. See you in a bit, twenty-four.”
“My name is–”
The line went dead.
Simone pocketed her cell phone and dragged herself to her feet. The floor felt like she was on the deck of a ship in heavy seas. She had to steady herself against the wall for half a minute before she was able to stop her knees from shaking…
She took a deep breath, got out of the stall, washed her face, then went down to the street, where the car was waiting. She got in on the back seat and closed the door. With a soft thud, the busy street outside was shut out behind tinted windows, comfortable luxury and quiet classical music on the radio. The driver was one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen. Simone could immediately tell that she was a slave from the life that was missing in her eyes. It was subtle. Most people that hadn’t known her before she’d been enslaved would probably miss it. But to Simone it was as obvious as entering a room and seeing that all the furniture had been removed.
The slave wordlessly began driving, and Simone was left to her own miserable thoughts as Chopin played to accompany her despair.
How had it all gone so wrong so quickly? Everything had been fine. No one had known. No one should have had any reason to suspect. But Cora had found out. Somehow, she’d found out that Simone had been snatched up as a young woman, put in a basement and brainwashed until she’d become Beatrice Duke’s willing slave.
Two years of her life, instead of having friends and work and a life, Simone had been forced to fuck anyone Beatrice commanded her to. She’d served tables naked in Beatrice’s nightclub, waving her tits at distinguished and wealthy guests of honor, and fucked them if she was told to. She’d been abused, raped, beaten and humiliated for six-hundred and seven days before one night, Tom had been the one she had obediently fucked.
And then, he had freed her.
She had no illusions about what kind of man her Husband was. He was hardly better than the other people that were on the Enclave’s VIP list. He was a back-dealing, conniving opportunist and definitely more crooked than bent, but he had been to one to buy her out and convince Beatrice to turn her back into a person. He was eloquent and witty and funny and good-looking – and he actually seemed to love her, and their wonderful daughter. He took time for both of them. He was easy to talk to. He was compassionate, when he wanted to be. She could have had it so much worse.
She knew he would never jeopardize them, if only in order to protect himself. If anything happened to them, it would also happen to him. No. Tom would never do this.
It really had to have been Cora. She found out because she’s too damn smart, Simone thought with a mix of pride and nausea. And now she’s caught up in it. It’s not her fault!
It took twenty minutes for them to arrive at a run-down commercial park halfway out of town. It looked like it had no tenants, and it was two blocks off the main road. Hardly any traffic to notice anything strange happening.
“We’re here. I will take you to Mistress,” said the slave tonelessly. Simone winced. She was just now noticing that the slave looked a lot like her when she’d been younger. The same wavy auburn hair, the same slim frame, and not quite but almost the same pointy nose. Her eyes were dark brown, however. Simone’s were gray.
She wondered what her name had been. She knew that she had none now. Only a number. Simone’s number had been twenty-four. She fatalistically wondered if they’d gotten up to four digits by now.
She saw no alternative to meekly following the young slave into the seemingly abandoned building, down into a basement. It felt like walking to her own execution. Her thoughts felt unfocussed and blurry, as if the dread and panic were dispersing and scattering them like a school of fish darting from a shark.
Finally, they arrived at the end of a short hallway, and the slave opened a door for her.
“MAMA!” the voice of her daughter called out, and something heavy inside of her shifted. It didn’t go away, not even a little bit, but it sat more comfortably, like something she could carry with great difficulty instead of something that was too big to even hold.
“CORA!” she screamed, and stormed toward her daughter, and embraced her before even thinking another thought. Cora was Cora. The world hadn’t ended.
She breathed in the subtly recognizable scent of her daughter, felt the shape of her in her arms. She was wearing the wool sweater Tom’s mother had knitted her two Christmases ago.
Simone looked around, and the dreadful reality sunk back in. Everything she saw was like another knife in her gut. Standing closest to her, looking at nothing and obviously entranced, was her husband Tom. And next to him was Iris Wilson, Cora’s best friend, and Consul Wilson’s daughter. Her eyes were wide with fear. All of them were surrounded by a half-dozen muscled slaves rigidly standing guard, each of them holding a cattle prod at their side.
“Willkommen, Simone,” said the sickeningly sweet voice of Beatrice Duke, and Simone spun around.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” Cora said, and Simone felt her daughter’s hand clasp hers. She took it, holding it firmly.
“I’ve never been to Germany personally. Never had a reason to come. Not my territory, usually… It’s very drab, too. I don’t see the appeal, Tom.”
“It is a very prestigious office,” Tom droned. “Germany is the largest economy in the Europ–”
“Quiet, Tom,” Beatrice said, and Tom fell silent. He stared at nothing, expression blank. Simone had never thought she’d see him like this. She had only ever seen women entranced. Part of her had wondered if it even worked on men.
“Why did you hypnotize Tom?” she asked.
“Tom has been entranced to make sure he wasn’t lying when he said that he never intended for your little secret to come out.”
“How did you–”
“Did you know that he has trigger phrases as well? Did he ever tell you that? It was part of the deal.”
Simone hadn’t known. Tom had never told her that. But that wasn’t what she had been about to ask. That wasn’t the thing she was worried about.
“How did you know Cora found out? She would never tell anyone.”
“She didn’t. Yet. But we can’t know that it will stay that way. And we especially can’t be sure about dear little Iris here,” Beatrice said, smiling like a prom queen as she indicated Cora’s blonde friend.
“I won’t tell,” Iris said, her voice bloodless and desperate. “I promise. Please let us go. Please.”
“Be quiet honey, it’s neither your place nor responsibility to speak,” Beatrice said with saccharine dismissal and without looking at her. She was looking at Simone.
“We have money.” Simone said, her voice finding something like firmness from somewhere “Tell them, Tom.”
“Yes. I have seventeen million Dollars in holdings, which I can liquidate in–”
“Quiet,” Beatrice said, still smiling, and Tom fell silent. Simone was shocked. Both by the amount of Money Tom had managed to amass, but even more so by the fact that Beatrice obviously didn’t seem to care. She knew that Tom had paid almost two million for her. Even if Beatrice wanted twice or triple the price they had already paid, he could have paid it.
“I don’t need any more money, twenty-four,” Beatrice said. “This isn’t the year two-thousand any more. I don’t need funding for my start-up. My business has long since been paying for itself. I already have everything that I can buy with money. I want intangibles. And you know that I always take what I want.”
“NO! You can’t have her!” Simone shouted into the uncaring and unfair universe that she was trapped in, and she could feel Cora squeeze her hand painfully.
“Mama, what does she mean?” she asked, and Simone’s heart chilled. Cora was innocent. She hadn’t deserved any of this. And neither had Iris, Cora’s friend. But they were all caught up in this now.
And Beatrice held all the cards. Simone realized just how hopeless their situation was, and she could feel her face dissolve into tears. Beatrice noticed, of course.
“Your Mama knows me,” she said, grinning sickeningly. “Unlike Tom, who made a deal to have your mother be freed. Had he known me, he would have known that–”
“–you don’t play fair.”
Beatrice smiled. It was like watching an oncoming flood wave, too fast to outrun. Simone knew that she had lost.
“No, I don’t,” Beatrice Duke said, and her smile was pitiless.