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by Bedroom Friend
Author's note: Although the following story is fictional, it is based on memories of babysitters I had and an English woman I met later in life.
"You guys still need a babysitter?" Neil smirked. The tall, rangy, freckle-faced bully turned his nose up at Joey and me in the courtyard of our Chicago apartment complex.
"Babies!" he sneered at us, raising a toy spyglass to his eye. "I'm going exploring!"
With the late-autumn daylight fading fast, I knew his boast was an empty one. In half an hour, night would blanket the neighborhood. But there was another reason his taunts lacked their usual sting that evening: anything Neil Preston did appeared childish and boring, and even a bit pathetic, compared to what Joey and I had planned for the babysitter.
Our plan was a bit mischievous, I must admit, but not at all malicious. To the contrary, we intended the best. The only question in my mind was: could we pull it off?
"Billy! Joe!" Mom called down to us from the third-floor landing.
"We're coming, Mom!" I yelled back.
My brother and I took the stairs two steps at a time, I leading the way, past the dark windows of the Goldbergs' apartment, through the halo of appetizing aromas emanating from the Tortaninis' kitchen, and up, finally, to our back porch, high above the darkening courtyard where Neil still stood fondling his spyglass.
"Sissies!" he shouted up at us. "I PITY you!"
Mom ushered Joey and me into the warm glow of the kitchen light where she gave us the usual shakedown.
"How much DIRT you boys pick up!" She licked the corner of a handkerchief and rubbed behind my ear.
"Aw, MOMMMMMM!" I tried to pull away.
Looking down the hallway, my heart began pounding. Kristina was there, in the foyer!
Talking with Dad, she looked different from three months ago, the last time she babysat us — more grown-up. I guessed why: her new job as retail sales clerk for an upscale women's fashion store required her to wear adult apparel. Gone were the T-shirt, blue jeans, white bobby socks, and tennis shoes. She'd come directly from work in a gold rayon blouse, navy blue skirt, nylons and pumps.
She'd done things to herself, too. The chestnut-brown hair over her shoulders appeared more lush and shinier now. When she tilted her head back to laugh at one of Dad's jokes, her earlobe glittered like a dewdrop. She'd accentuated her eyebrows and lips, reminding me of the markings of certain butterfly wings. And then there were the nylons.
Something about them made her look especially grown-up, although what exactly it was puzzled me. Why did women wear nylons anyway? Mom wore them sometimes. So did Miss Gordon, my third-grade teacher at Holy Mount of the Angels Catholic elementary school. Light brown in tone, the kind Kristina wore that evening gave her legs and feet the color of baker potatoes. She had good legs, too-—not the bony stilts possessed by many young women, but legs with warm flesh on them, legs that made me want to wrap myself around her and plant a cheek in her lap!
"You two be good," Mom wagged a finger at Joey and me by the front door while she and Dad prepared to depart.
"Can I give Agnes a snack before bedtime, Mommy?" Our four-year-old sister, Charlotte, kissed her doll baby on the forehead. In a pink chiffon dress with puffs around the shoulders, immaculate white socks, and shiny black shoes with little straps, Charlotte had honey-golden hair done up in tubular curls to resemble the doll's.
"Can I give her apple sauce?" the little girl asked.
"Sure, honey," Mom said. "But don't feed her too much or she won't be able to get to sleep."
"I won't, Mommy."
"Can Billy and I have the rest of them cookies, Ma?"
Joey, who was a year younger than I, was nonetheless half a head taller. He looked much more like Dad than I did, what with his smooth, dark brown hair and straight, commanding nose. No one knew where I got my tempestuous locks of sandy blond or the nose that poked out from my puckish face like a rebel's ensign.
"Just two for each of you," Mom said.
"But I'm bigger than Billie, Ma! I NEED more!"
Mom bent over slightly as Dad helped her on with her coat. If she was as light and nimble as a ballerina, Dad was tall and strong as a derrick with a ruggedly handsome face that, Mom always said, made him look like a Russian espionage agent.
"Enjoy the opera, Mrs. Stenova," Kristina smiled.
"You can't go wrong with Mozart," Mom chirped.
"Depends on the orchestra," Dad corrected her in his bearish bass voice.
Mom frowned at him. "Bye now!" She waved to us.
We kids waved back. The parents left. Kristina locked the front door.
"So!" the babysitter turned around. "How have we all been lately?"
Although Polish by origin and Slavic in appearance, Kristina had grown up in London and had an excellent command of English. Mom was enamored of her English accent, which is one reason why she liked her. But I sensed another, deeper reason, too.
Mom felt sorry for Kristina-—sorry that this attractive, intelligent, twenty-three-year-old woman was so lonely. Kristina's mom, Stasha, had told mine all about her daughter's travails. In American schools and at work, Kristina had met with repeated rejection from young men who, supposedly, found her too complex, too cosmopolitan, too DIFFERENT. Learning of this, I, too, felt sorry for Kristina and wanted to help her, which is what had inspired that night's plan.
"What's on the agenda?" the babysitter asked, eyeing Joey and me. "I sense you two have something brewing."
"Baking," Charlotte corrected her. "Cookies! Cakes! Brownies!" She referred to her make-believe Wonder Cakes.
Ignoring her for the moment, Kristina shifted her eyes from Joey to me and back again. "Cat's got your tongues?" she asked.
"The cow jumped over the moon!" Charlotte exclaimed.
"Be quiet!" Joey scowled at her.
"Now, now, Joey," Kristina said, "don't talk like that to your little sister." She patted Charlotte on the head and turned to me.
"Joey and I made up a new game," I said.
Her eyes narrowed. "Oh, you did, did you?"
She gave me a sly smile. "Do I get to be tied up?"
My heart leapt. She'd remembered the game we played last time.
The night we played it, one of her college friends, Ingrid Templeton, stopped by. We were at the front door, Ingrid standing in the hallway just outside our apartment. While chatting with Kristina, Ingrid paused, blinked behind her thick spectacles, and blinked again.
"What's he DOING?" she asked.
Tall, skinny, giraffe-like, with blond hair that hung down her back like a wet mop head, Ingrid bent sideways to look behind Kristina's shoulders.
"He's tying me up," Kristina said.
She said it as if getting tied up were the most natural thing that could happen to her. In fact, I was binding her hands, tying them together with my pajama sash.
"Well, in any case," she resumed her gossip, "Theresa decided not to go to the movie after all, which is why Greg changed his mind about Saturday night, and Laura gave me that call Wednesday. Linda told Jim, Jim told Margery, and that's how PATRICK found out!"
As the girl talk flew by like monkey prattle, I had plenty of time to experiment, knotting and re-knotting, unbinding and rebinding. The exercise absorbed me for some reason but, with only three feet of pajama sash to work with, I soon ran out of possibilities.
Still the women talked on.
I glanced at Joey. Rolling our eyes in mutual exasperation, we turned toward the wall of the foyer and slumped down like a couple of stuffed duffle bags to sit and wait in a corner.
Finally, Ingrid heaved a sigh of adjournment. "You'll be able to come then, next Friday?"
"Sure," Kristina nodded.
I was staring at her bound hands, which lay where I had left them, crisscrossed above her butt. She hadn't moved a finger.
"Don't worry about Patrick!" she said. "You're making a mountain out of a mole hill."
"I hope so!"
Ingrid glanced at Joey and me. We were still slumped in that corner, glummer than a rainy day at the ballpark.
"They look constipated," she said.
Craning her neck around, Kristina laughed. "They want their prisoner."
"Prisoner?" Ingrid repeated.
"I'm the captured Spanish princess!" Kristina turned to show Ingrid her bound hands.
Ingrid shook her head in mock reproach. "Boys! Boys!"
WHY DON'T YOU JUST SHUT UP AND GO HOME!
That's what I felt like saying. But Ingrid was an adult-—or almost an adult-—and I'd been trained to show respect to adults.
"As long as it keeps 'em quiet!" Kristina sighed.
"I GUESS!" Ingrid sighed back.
At last, the talky visitor left. Joey slammed the front door shut. I marched the "prisoner" back to the sofa in the living room.
The night went pretty well after that. Armed with plastic toy swords, my brother and I enjoyed a number of good sword fights across the living-room floor, which, for that night, was really the deck of The Skull and Crossbones. Charlotte baked Wonder Cakes for Agnes and the rest of us. And Kristina, hands bound behind her back, sat watching a Woody Allen film on the sofa, which, for that night, was Bluebeard's bunk.
Later, I fetched an old curtain cord Mom kept in the linen closet and tied the prisoner's feet together. Engrossed in the movie, she paid me no attention.
Then the phone rang.
"Oh, my Gosh!" she exclaimed.
My heart jumped. I couldn't possibly untie her in time.
"Billie," she said. "You answer that. And if it's your parents, just tell them I'm using the restroom."
The call was, in fact, from Mom, who was only checking up on us. Everything was fine, I said. Joey and I were playing. Charlotte was asleep. And Kristina was…
"She's in the restroom, Ma."
It worked like a charm. Later, though, I wondered if we could use the same stratagem again without rousing the suspicion that Kristina suffered from some embarrassing bowel or bladder problem. So now, three months later, I'd concocted another solution.
"What's THAT?" Kristina looked down at the bundle I'd fetched from Dad's work closet.
"An extension cord," I said. "We can bring the phone from Mom and Dad's room into the living room—in case Mom calls."
Beaming with pride, I smiled up at her.
"And what," she asked, her pretty blue eyes acquiring a wry twinkle above the curves of her high Slavic cheekbones. "What am I supposed to be tonight?"
"A bank teller," I said.
"Hmmmmm! I think I like the Spanish princess better."
"We're robbing the First National Savings and Trust," Joey announced, whipping a toy pistol out of his pocket. "Stick 'em up, lady!"
Kristina raised her hands. In that gold rayon blouse of hers, she looked remarkably LIKE a bank teller.
"I won't shoot," Joey assured her, "so long as you do what you're told!"
"We don't want to hurt ANYONE," I noted.
"That's good to know," Kristina smiled.
"Can I give her a cupcake now?" Charlotte asked, holding up a plastic make-believe pastry with a red rubber cherry on top.
"Not yet," I scowled at her.
"What do you plan to DO with me?" Kristina adopted a falsetto tone.
"Calm down, lady. CAAAAAALM down! We're just gonna tie you up." I turned to Joey and growled, "Take her downstairs!"
"THAT way!" Joey jerked his gun.
The "hapless teller", hands in the air, minced into the living room, which, for that night, had metamorphosed into the vault of the First National Savings and Trust.
"What?" I growled.
"May I use the restroom?"
Joey and I exchanged glances. Using the restroom never happened in any bank robbery we'd ever heard of.
"Okay," I sighed. "But make it fast!"
When she returned, I had dragged a piece of furniture in from Mom's boudoir-—a light, armless chair with a tall back, round, cushioned seat, and feminine legs.
"You can sit down here, lady," I said.
Adjusting her skirt, Kristina sat down, crossed her ankles, and folded her hands on her lap.
"What now, sir?"
"Hands behind your back!"
"May I take these off first?" She indicated her three-inch high heels. "They've been killing me all day!"
Joey and I exchanged glances again.
"Oh, go ahead!" I waved impatiently. "But remember, this is a bank robbery."
"Oh, I won't forget THAT, sir." She slipped off the shoes and set them neatly together beside the chair.
"I'll turn the TV on," Charlotte piped up.
"Thank you, honey," Kristina said.
Little Sister ran to the television and turned it on, glad to participate in the evening's events as well as display her competence, but she floundered on changing channels.
"How do you get to seven, Billie?"
"Joey," I strove to remain calm. "Turn it to seven."
To keep the robbery from degenerating into a total farce, I summoned up my gruffest voice. "Hands behind your back, lady—-and no more interruptions!"
With a show of alacrity, Kristina brought her wrists behind the back of the chair, crossing one over the other, as she'd done when I bound them with the pajama sash. Since then, however, I'd done some thinking that led me to another idea. I repositioned her hands, heel-to-heel. Using Mom's new clothesline - soft, supple rope of white cotton — I wrapped her wrists together loosely, not tight, as when I'd bound her with the sash.
"Ooooooo!" she exclaimed a moment later, turning her head slightly. "What did you do, Billie?"
I'd done something I'd learned a few weeks earlier while fastening sticks together to make a tripod - I'd cinched the bond. The rope round her wrists suddenly contracted, assuming a snug grip.
I knelt in front of her and tied her feet the same way, cinching the bond.
"Oooooo!" she cooed with curiosity and delight. "That's different!"
"I learned it in Cub Scouts," I said, unable to contain my pride.
She turned her ankles and wrists, one way and another, and a smile of surprise broke out on her face. "Why, I don't know if I can get OUT of this, Billie!"
Three months ago, she had wiggled out of my pajama sash in fifteen minutes.
"No more talking, lady!"
She turned her attention to the television.
It was fun fastening her to the chair—-like decorating a tree—-and I took my time to do a thorough job. I'd thought about how to tie her beforehand, so I knew approximately where I was going, but I improvised a lot, too, looping, cinching, knotting. When I threaded the rope under her armpits to pass across her brazier, both over AND under it, she began to object.
I paused, rope in hand.
"What?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing," she smiled up at me and relaxed. "Go ahead! Go ahead!"
The rope was longer than I thought it would be, but I used all of it anyway. When I finished, Kristina was one with the chair, trussed up from ankles to shoulders. She reminded me of a character I'd seen on one of Mom's favorite soap operas—-some lady who got kidnapped and held for ransom.
"Can I give her a cake now?" Charlotte asked.
"Not yet," I said. "We need the combination first."
"What IS it, lady?" Joey spoke up.
"Wha- what's what?"
Kristina turned from the TV and refocused on the "gunman".
"The combination to the safe," Joey growled. "What is it?"
"Oh, sir!" she ratcheted her voice up a notch. "Do I have to betray the bank? This is my first real job and I…"
Joey's brow darkened.
"You better talk, lady," I advised.
"Woe is me!" she exclaimed, twisting her wrists and ankles to exhibit her helplessness. "If I must, then I must! 76—31—92."
"Got that, Joey?"
Stepping to a cardboard box we'd painted to resemble a safe, he pretended to dial the number.
"Billie!" he exclaimed. "There's at least a million dollars in here!"
"A million!" I said.
"Put it in the bag. And hurry! We ain't got all night."
Kristina, I noticed, had begun squirming and twisting, but not in a theatrical way. Rather, she was testing her bonds, seriously. Unable to free herself, she relaxed, arms bound behind the back of the chair, ankles tied back beneath the seat.
"Billie?" she looked at me.
"What is it now, lady?"
"I...I suppose you'll have to..."
She lifted her eyebrows inquisitively. "To GAG me?"
Joey and I glanced at each other. I hadn't planned on gagging her.
My plan was to swing into high gear now. Joey and I were to make a "getaway" by dashing to the far end of the apartment - the kitchen. There, I'd telephone Brad Funderburk, a friend and classmate of mine.
Brad happened to be the little brother of Tom Funderburk. Of Kristina's age, maybe a little older, Tom was a gangly, shy, nerdish kind of guy obsessed with auto mechanics and car design. From Brad, I knew that Tom had a crush on Kristina. I also knew that she was fond of him. But since he was so shy, he'd never make a pass. I wanted Brad to "tip off" his big brother that Kristina's car had broken down, she was at our place, and she needed help.
"You know, Billie," she pointed out, "if this were a real bank robbery, I'd scream for help after you made your getaway."
"She's right," Joey said.
"But this vault has ten-foot thick walls," I noted.
"Ever hear a woman scream?" Kristina asked.
"I think we better gag her," Joey said.
Kristina's eyes brightened. "Look in my purse," she said. "There's a clean handkerchief in there."
Unlacing the handbag on the sofa, I found the desired cloth.
"Do you guys have duct tape?" she asked.
"In Dad's closet," Joey said.
He got the tape. I fetched a clean white rag from Mom's laundry basket. Kristina opened her mouth and I packed in the handkerchief. Her lips closed around it. I sealed her mouth with several strips of tape and wrapped the white rag over it, knotting the cloth firmly behind her neck, underneath the hair.
When I'd finished, she turned her head and looked at me. The expression on her face I shall never forget. It reminded me of Droopy, Grandma's sad-eyed beagle. She moaned into the gag as if imbibing the aroma of chocolate-chip cookies baking in an oven.
Pushing up on the balls of her feet, she began rubbing her legs together as far as her bonds permitted, thighs back and forth, calves up and down, her nyloned toes digging into the carpet. The chair creaked a little. Then something bizarre happened.
Her eyes widened, glowing for a moment like fanned embers above the cream-white cloth wrapped over her mouth. The embers dimmed; her eyes misted over. She shuddered, and the moan that issued from the depths of her throat was long and languishing.
Her chin dropped to her chest.
Joey and I stared at each other, mystified.
"Are...are you all right, Miss Poltava?" I asked as delicately as I could.
She opened her eyes looking groggy.
"Mmmmmmm!" she moaned again and smiled at me dreamily.
I shrugged. "Come on, Joey! Let's go!"
He grabbed the "loot" and we dashed down the hall to the kitchen.
"Brad!" I spoke into the phone. "Yeah, we're ready!"
About fifteen minutes later, the knock sounded on the front door. Joey and I were in the living room, sitting on the floor playing marbles. Charlotte was curled up in a corner of the sofa dressing Agnes. Kristina, still bound and gagged, was watching TV. At the sound of the knock, she turned to the door with eyes the size of walnuts.
It sounded again.
She turned to Joey and me and jerked her head, apparently meaning to be dragged, chair and all, out of the line of sight.
"Mmmph! Mmmph! MMMMPH! Mmmph! Mmmph!"
Joey and I stared back, pretending to be baffled.
"Should I answer the door?" I asked.
"MMMPH!" she shook her head emphatically.
The knock sounded a third time, louder now, more insistent.
Kristina began pushing up with the balls of her feet, trying to budge the chair toward a safe corner, but could only inch backward and sideways at a weird angle.
I pictured the look of surprise that would break out on Tom Funderburk's face when Joey swung open the door. What we saw, though, was something totally unexpected.
Standing in the hall were two uniformed policemen. Between them stood Tom, looking rattled, his shaggy hair curtaining his eyes, his hands apparently cuffed behind him.
"Kristina!" he cried, aghast.
"What's going on here?" asked one of the cops, a portly, middle-aged veteran of law enforcement with tufts of grayish hair sticking out from behind his ears.
His partner, a skinny young man a bit taller than Tom, might have been fresh out of the police academy and this, his first real assignment. With deep-socketed eyes, he stood stupefied, staring at Kristina.
"Would you like a cookie?" Charlotte stepped up to him, holding her doll baby in one hand, a plastic make-believe brownie in the other.
The tall cop looked down at her, still stunned, then again at Kristina.
The babysitter turned her face away, looking as if she wanted to curl up, vanish into a black hole, and re-emerge elsewhere - preferably in another universe.
"It's just a game, officer," I tried to explain.
I was standing now next to Joey, who was still agape, holding onto the doorknob as if his hand were welded to it.
"Our parents are at the opera and that's..." I pointed to the bound woman. "That's our babysitter."
"She's the bank teller," Charlotte corrected me.
The cops loosened up a bit.
"Bank teller, eh?" the portly one smiled. "Are you all right in there, ma'am?"
Kristina looked up and nodded, lifting her eyebrows to simulate a smile mingled with a sigh.
The cop poked his head into the apartment. "You sure there's no problem?" he asked.
"Mmmm, mmmm," Kristina shook her head.
"Well!" the cop turned to Tom. "I guess this was all a mistake, young man."
He took a key from his pocket and unlocked the handcuffs. The "suspect" pulled his big hands in front of him looking surlier than an angry grizzly bear. He rubbed his wrists where the cuffs had been and, with a jerky motion, brushed hair from his eyes.
"You two know each other?" Looking at Tom, the cop nodded at Kristina.
"Sort of," he mumbled. "I...I went to school with her. I just came here to visit. I didn't know she'd be... Or that I'd be..."
"Sorry," the portly cop laughed. "Someone reported a burglary. Standing outside the door, you did look pretty suspicious."
I pictured poor Tom - big, clumsy, shaggy-haired Tom - lurking in the hall, his heart pounding with excitement but too timid to knock, and then the police arriving!
A beeper went off and the portly cop answered it.
"We got to go," he said. "Have a good night, ma'am," he waved at Kristina.
"Mmmm! Mmmm!" she nodded.
Chuckling behind his hand, the cop said to me, "Don't keep her tied up too long, sonny. Okay?"
"Don't worry," Charlotte piped up. "She'll be untied soon." Charlotte looked at Tom, which made him blush.
Although she'd averted her eyes, Kristina blushed too.
"May I come in?" Tom asked me after the cops had left.
"Kristina," I called, "can Tom come in?"
The babysitter nodded, her eyes closed.
Tom entered. I shut the door. Joey and I followed the visitor into the living room.
"May I?" Tom asked.
He proceeded to undo the gag. The rag around her mouth dropped away. "Wow!" he gasped. "You're taped up, too!"
Past embarrassment, she merely tilted her head to facilitate his task. Carefully, Tom unpeeled the tape while Joey, Charlotte and I stood watching like medical students observing the head surgeon perform a fascinating and delicate operation. Finally, there emerged from between Kristina's lips the core of the gag, the wadded handkerchief.
It reminded me of an egg coming out of a hen - something I'd seen on a field trip in Miss Gordon's class earlier that autumn. Tom incredulously extracted the damp stuffing and placed it neatly on a coffee table.
"Operation complete!" he proclaimed.
"Thanks!" Kristina smiled up at him sheepishly.
"This was a GAME?" he asked.
"It keeps the boys occupied."
"I bet it does."
She licked her lips, sighed, and licked her lips again. "Tom?"
Their eyes met, hers glistening.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Sorry? About what?"
"About you getting arrested. I don't know how the cops got involved. I don't know how YOU got involved."
Tom screwed an eye up at Joey and me. "I think," he said, "a pair of little pranksters had something to do with it."
But who, I wondered, had called the police?
I glanced at the living-room window. Joey and I had forgotten to draw the curtain over it. Across the courtyard stood Neil Preston's apartment. I pictured the bully at his window, spyglass in hand, looking in on us.
After Tom had untied her, slipping the last turn of rope from around her ankle, Kristina stood up and stretched her limbs, all four of them. "Oh, it feels good - good to be free again!"
He caught her wrist in the air. "What's this?"
"My wrist!" she pulled it back.
"I mean THIS!"
He led her to the sofa, holding her wrist, making a great show of examining the skin around it. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"
They sat down together, she leaning against him, not much but more than she absolutely had to, her hair against his cheek.
"Look! There's more!" he bent down and ran a hand over her leg. She let him massage it.
"Rope marks, silly!" she giggled. "What do you expect? I've been tied UP!"
I suppose the excitement of the night had unnerved Tom to a degree that surprised even him. Turning on the sofa, he now gazed at the face of the woman in front of him, enraptured, starry-eyed, and near bursting with suppressed desire.
"Tom?" she gazed back, amused but also alarmed, like one situated next to a volcano about to erupt.
"You dear, dear, dear sweet girl!" his feelings broke loose at last.
Suddenly, in a most uncharacteristic manner, he threw his arms around her. I ran to pull the curtain over the window. Planting his cheek against Kristina's, Tom pushed forward, she leaned back, his leg came over her knees, and one of her stockinged feet rose off the floor.
"Oh, Tom!" She seemed to wilt in his embrace. He nuzzled her neck. She sighed.
Joey and I exchanged glances. Charlotte stared in wonderment.
"This is…" Kristina gasped. "This is…"
"This is what?" Tom chuckled. "Better than being tied up?"
"Yes!" she laughed.
He squeezed her hard.
"Oh!" she gasped.
Joey and I frowned at each other.
"Let's order a pizza!" I exclaimed and picked up the phone I'd brought in from Mom and Dad's room by means of the extension cord.
"Yeah!" said Joey. "I'm hungry!"
The lovebirds disengaged, brushing their tousled hair back.
"It... it sure has been a strange night!" Tom observed, tucking his shirt in.
"It sure HAS!" Charlotte agreed. "And I'm gonna tell Mommy and Daddy EVERYTHING!"
Joey and I looked at each other, nonplussed. So did Tom and Kristina.
"Oh, heavens!" the babysitter laughed. "Now we're ALL in a bind!"
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