Wendy had spent the morning crying. It was how she had spent every morning of the past two years. It looked to be how she would spend every morning for the rest of her life.
The physical suffering was no longer significant. He had said she would adapt, and she had. But the humiliation had never diminished. Rather, it had increased until she could barely think about the continuation of her life.
Many would say she had married well. The daughter and sole heir of a wealthy financier, and classically beautiful to boot, she had been pursued by fortune hunters from all the continents of the world. Her father had protected her scrupulously. No one had been permitted a hundred words of conversation with her without first proving his bona fides to the satisfaction of a regiment of detectives. The bequest of the Milliards’ family fortune would not be a prize for some rapacious gigolo.
Instead, it had been won by a fiend.
Paul Martin had seemed too good to be true. He came from an irreproachable East Coast family, an original member of the Four Hundred. He was as handsome as Wendy was beautiful. Notwithstanding his clan’s position, he was independently wealthy by his own labors in the marketing of consumer electronics. He had been the target of enough women with dollar signs in their eyes to staff a large brothel. In public he was always gracious, faultlessly polite, and completely the master of his circumstances. He carried himself with the natural grace and unselfconsciousness that bespeaks true gentility. She had hardly been able to accept that he was genuinely interested in her. It was the stuff of dreams.
And like all things that seem too good to be true, he was not what he seemed. The echoes of their marriage vows had barely faded when he began to show the sadism at his core. Now she bore it like a cross.
He made her do things: degrading things, things beyond the darkest hints she, a virgin when she married, had ever received from more experienced friends. He had started out gently enough, and she, desperately eager to please him, had complied with his early requests without thought. It had taken only a little while before she realized what he was turning her into. When she protested, he overrode her with a forcefulness she could never have expected. From that moment her real torment began.
He had turned her into an object. Her sensibilities, to which he had previously paid lip service, were as nothing to him. Her role in his life was to be the raw material upon which he would act out his dark urges. He had almost ceased to speak to her; she could no longer speak to him at all.
Each day he sealed her into a corset that covered her from breasts to knees, pulling the laces so tight that she could barely move or breathe. He locked bizarre shoes upon her feet: shoes with toes so short and heels so high that she could barely totter across their home. Sometimes he would add hobble chains; sometimes, a gag. And always, when he had finished dressing her, would come the ultimate degradation: the two long, thick plugs, one for her vagina and the other for her anus, attached to a harness that locked about her waist. When, crying furiously, she dared to ask why, he smiled and said it was to teach her continence and self-control.
Today, at least, he had omitted the gag, and she could wail her full measure. But there was no salvation for her in this, only the relief of that one need. Their house, nestled in the country woods, secluded and far from any neighbor, had a telephone with an unlisted number, set only to receive calls. She would be held captive here until he relented or she died.
All that sustained her was faith: an unreasoned belief that some form of salvation would be hers if only she could persevere. She had always thought herself weak, but how weak could she be, if she could endure this? Help was out there somewhere. She waited for it as patiently as she could.
The telephone rang.
The sound was so unexpected that she jumped to hear it. Moving with care, she went to his office and picked up the handset.
“Is this Mrs. Paul Martin?” The voice at the other end was a smooth baritone, pleasantly inflected, with a hint of an accent she could not identify.
She winced at the pain of being called by his name. “Yes, this is she.”
“Mrs. Martin, I represent Turnabout, Incorporated. We’ve been given to understand that you might benefit from our services. Do you know of us?”
“No, what do you do?” The strange name brought her an image of a company lifting their house with a crane and spinning it around.
“Mrs. Martin, we are the enforcement agency for the Golden Rule. We do unto others as they do unto you. Some can’t manage that for themselves, whether from circumstances or temperament. Might this describe you in some way?”
The words seemed to ring in her ears. “You…do unto others?”
“Yes, Mrs. Martin, exactly as they’ve done unto you. No more and no less. We’ve received a call from someone who knows you quite well, suggesting to us that you might fit our client profile. Are you being victimized in some way that makes you unable to respond? Might you be able to use a capable ally with coercive resources?”
There was a slight emphasis on the word “coercive.” She could hardly believe what she was hearing.
“Who was it who told you of me?”
“Mrs. Martin, our sources of information must be kept confidential, to protect against the possibility of harmful backlash. We are merely inquiring about whether you might find our specialty valuable. Consider it a ‘cold call,’ that you might receive from any other kind of retail organization. Would you like to schedule a visit from one of our representatives?”
A wild joy rose in her, faster and stronger than thought could follow.
“Yes! Yes, get someone here as quickly as you can! The address is — ”
“Oh, no need for that. We know where to find you.”
The caller hung up.
The doorbell rang only a few minutes later. She scurried to answer it, ignoring the pain in her feet, and threw the door open. The man who stood upon her step was of medium height, pleasant looking, and garbed in a dark business suit. He carried himself with the assurance of a successful corporate executive. He could have been any of Paul’s business associates. He looked at her with only a slight smile.
“Mrs. Martin? I am Harrison Avenell of Turnabout, Incorporated. May I come in?”
“Yes, yes.” She ushered him in and bade him sit upon the sofa in the living room just beyond. He did so, leaning slightly forward, hands clasped before him. She pulled a chair up to sit in herself.
“May I inquire as to whether your…unusual style of dress has anything to do with your problem, Ma’am?” Avenell withdrew a small notebook and a pen from an inner pocket of his jacket.
Her breath caught in her chest. The moment had come. From here, there could be no turning back.
“It has everything to do with it.” She described her husband’s proclivities, and how the course of their marriage had run. Avenell listened attentively, occasionally asking for details and making a notation. When she had run out of words, he nodded, put the notebook back into his pocket, and clasped his hands before him once again.
“I don’t recall seeing a case like yours before, Ma’am. It’s both heartbreaking and entirely new. Did I describe Turnabout’s methods when we spoke on the ‘phone?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
He leaned slightly farther forward and spoke softly. “We believe in the Golden Rule, Mrs. Martin. We believe in it passionately. We are supported by people who believe as we do. Sometimes, the Golden Rule needs a little force behind it. We provide that force. If you decide to employ us, we will reproduce the pattern of your victimization upon your husband. We will strive to duplicate what he has done to you in all details. Some might be beyond our abilities, but, excepting those, his condition after we have finished with him will approach what you have endured as closely as human ingenuity and effort can manage.” He paused and glanced at his hands. “I doubt he’ll like it much.”
She began to laugh. The laugh got away from her, escalated into a crazy shriek. It must have frightened him, for he went to her, put his hands on her shoulders, and shook her gently until she regained her self-control.
“Mrs. Martin, do you intend to engage us?”
Breathing deeply, she nodded. “It’s what I’ve dreamed of. Oh, God, I knew if I could just hold out, there would be help!” She caught herself, strove for steadiness. “When can you start?”
He smiled. “Right away.” He went to the door, opened it, and beckoned to someone she couldn’t see. Within seconds, a man bearing a large toolbox had come in. He extracted cutting devices from the box and went to work on her restraints without a word. Incredulous, she looked up at Avenell. He smiled.
“We always come prepared. When does your husband usually get home?”
Paul Martin pulled his Mercedes into the driveway of his country home a little after seven that evening. It had been an ordinary day, with neither a challenge nor an opportunity to make it memorable. But his evenings with Wendy were never ordinary, and tonight he would have the most extraordinary one he could manage.
He locked the car door, hefted his oversized briefcase, and went unconcernedly to and through the front door of his manse. It took a moment for him to realize that the house was completely dark. He dropped his bag and rotated his head slowly from left to right, peering through the murk for any sign of human presence.
A hand darted out of the darkness and clamped a heavy, sweet-smelling cloth over his mouth and nose. He spasmed backward, slamming himself into the rigid oak door he had only just closed and locked behind him. The cloth remained over his face. He groped for the arm to try to pull it away, but his attacker was much stronger than he.
The chloroform took only a few seconds to deprive him of consciousness. He slumped to the floor, dreamlessly asleep.
Harrison Avenell nodded over the evening’s work in satisfaction. “I’d say our men did a thorough job.”
Wendy Milliard could hardly tear her eyes away from the “evening’s work.” The Turnabout agents had stripped Paul, encased him in a stiffly boned corset of heavy black leather, ball-gagged him, cuffed his hands behind him, locked tight black high heels upon his feet, plugged his anus with the very device he had used upon her, and had added a tight steel shackle around the base of his genitals. Her husband was a perfect picture of helpless humiliation.
“Yes, they…Yes, thank you.” She tore her eyes from Paul’s feebly squirming form to look at Avenell, her unexpected instrument of liberation and vengeance. All the other Turnabout personnel had already departed. “And what will the price be?”
Avenell smiled gently. “We have no set schedule of fees, Ma’am. We prefer to let our clients decide on the worth of the services we render. In many cases, we expect nothing, since the client has nothing or close to it. In others, we look forward to a generous donation, since the client has means and appreciates the improvement in his condition. But in all cases, we let the client decide. It’s the simplest way of ensuring that we won’t overstep our proper bounds.”
Yielding to impulse, Wendy enveloped him in a grateful embrace. He accepted it gracefully.
“Mr. Avenell, ‘generous’ does not do justice to what you deserve for this service you’ve done me. Only leave me your card, and Turnabout can look forward to becoming very wealthy indeed.”
He smiled. “No need to beggar yourself, Ma’am. We do quite well, if the truth be known.” He handed her an ordinary business card. The act of slipping it into the pocket of her jeans felt strange. It had been a long time since she’d last worn a garment with pockets.
His expression had turned somber. “Mrs. Martin — ”
“Please, call me Wendy.”
“Wendy, then. I’d like to talk with you for a moment about justice. The nature of justice, how it operates among men and how it’s tuned for peak efficiency. Have you ever thought about such things?”
She shook her head.
“The oldest codification of rules of justice,” he said, “is sometimes called the Lex Talionis. We know it by a summary of its principles: ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ To many persons of the present day, it sounds unbelievably harsh.
“But those who think so have no appreciation of the exquisite balance it dictates, the way it maintains equilibrium in the societies that adopt it. You see, the Lex Talionis is only the Golden Rule as applied to punishment. What your oppressor has done to you must be done unto him: no more, and no less. No less, because a criminal must not be allowed to gain any advantage from his deeds. But above all no more, because that is the way of the criminal himself. The oldest and strictest obligation of justice is not to inflict harm on the innocent in the attempt to punish the guilty. The second one is not to exceed the severity of the criminal’s offense in visiting punishment upon him.”
Avenell looked back over his shoulder at her husband. “We’ve reduced Mr. Martin to the state he kept you in, as closely as we could, allowing for differences in anatomy. We’re going to leave him with you, in exactly that condition. He’s helpless, Wendy. You could do anything you choose to him, once we’ve departed these premises. You could even take his life. All that will stand between him and any torment you could imagine is your sense of proportionality and your self-control.”
The executive looked into her eyes once again. She was unsure of meeting them.
“The baton passes to you now. It’s for you to decide what happens next to your husband, if anything. Sometimes, women who’ve been rescued from situations such as yours make…errors. They can’t deal properly with their fear and rage. Please don’t be one of them. It would be unutterably distressing for me to need to return here on Mr. Martin’s behalf.”
He extended his hand, and she took it. His face was grave.
“Good bye, Wendy. I hope Turnabout has been of service to you.”
Mutely, she led him to the door and saw him out. When she had closed herself in again, she leaned against the door for a brief span. Eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply, she tried to collect her wits and intentions.
Avenell’s words rang unpleasantly in her head. She knew exactly what he’d meant. What she didn’t know was what to do next.
She returned to her bedroom. Paul was still there, still helpless. All he could do was to squirm slightly. She wasn’t certain that he was even aware of her presence. Watching him, she felt a powerful surge of rage and a thirst for vengeance.
Her captivity had been too painful and too prolonged to let him off lightly. Yet how could she keep him prisoner as he had done to her? The practicalities alone were beyond her imagining. Her endurance under these conditions could not be assured. If he was to suffer adequately for his sins against her, it would have to be on an accelerated schedule. It would have to begin and end tonight, for she would stay there no longer.
She composed herself and began to think.
Wendy looked up from her paperback and scanned the coffee shop for the speaker. She found Harrison Avenell, once again in a dark suit, with a clipboard under his arm, smiling at her from a few paces away. She rose and they shook hands.
“How pleasant that you should remember me, Mr. Avenell. But it’s ‘Miss Hilliard’ now. I trust the donation I made to Turnabout was…satisfactory?”
He nodded. “More than satisfactory, Ma’am. It was quite generous. It pleased me greatly to know we’d rendered so great a service to you.”
They seated themselves, and he inclined his head. “You’re looking very well. I’d venture to guess that your, ah, post-marital circumstances are much improved over the previous ones.”
She dimpled. “Hardly a guess. I live in Manhattan now, and I’ve taken a position in my father’s firm. I enjoy it much more than being…ah…”
“A stay-at-home wife?”
She felt blood rise into her cheeks. “Say rather ‘kept at home,’ but you have the idea.”
Avenell leaned toward her with a look of intrigue, and she canted toward him in response. “I must say, I was impressed with your conclusion to the affair. I’d expected something quite different. When I left your former home, I feared I might soon be seeking you out for less pleasant reasons.”
She nodded. “I remember your little speech.”
Avenell’s mouth twitched in discomfort. “I didn’t mean to catechize you, Ma’am. But you’d been through a lot, and I feared an excessive reaction once the tables had been turned.” His gaze sharpened. “How did you decide on the form of your revenge?”
Wendy let her eyes travel over the sample of humanity that filled the Broadway coffee shop. Dozens of men and women ate, drank, talked on cell phones, tapped keys on their laptops and PDAs, or simply passed the time in thought. Most were ordinary people with ordinary concerns, surely. Whatever their trials, they didn’t go home to victimized spouses, nor to become such themselves.
Most could not comprehend the hell she’d been through. Even her closest friends couldn’t stand to hear about it. But Avenell and his men had freed her. Perhaps he would.
“I knew from the start,” she said, “that I couldn’t punish him adequately by physical means. I’m not strong, and anyway, I’ve never been able to inflict pain on others without suffering even worse myself. But as I pondered it, staring at him all trussed up as you’d left him, I realized that the physical pain he’d inflicted on me was by far the least part of my ordeal. He’d said I would adapt to it, and I had. Very quickly, in fact.”
Avenell’s eyebrows rose. “Then the worst part was –?”
“The humiliation. The sense of having been made into a helpless plaything for him to torment and cackle over. Even though no one else ever saw me as you did that day, I suffered worst from the comparison between what I’d been when he was wooing me, and what I’d become under his hand.
“So I went through his Rolodex, and his Day-Timer, and the numbers stored in his cell phone, and I invited everyone I could reach to a surprise party in his honor the following evening. And I left him there, behind an unlocked door bearing a sign that said WALK RIGHT IN, for his family, his friends, and his business associates to find.”
She smiled brightly. “So tell me, Mr. Avenell: Do you think my retribution was too harsh? Or did I fit his punishment more or less accurately to his crime?”
Avenell face went blank. He sat back, folded his hands in his lap, and stayed silent for a long moment. Wendy’s fears rose. She hadn’t seriously considered the possibility that Turnabout might come after her for taking excessive revenge upon Paul, but it had lurked in the sub-cellars of her brain ever since.
“No, Ma’am,” he said at last, “Turnabout has no quarrel with what you did. I’m not here on Mr. Martin’s behalf. But I must admit that I did come looking for you.”
“Oh? But not because of Paul?”
Avenell’s smile returned. “Yes, because of Paul. My colleagues were quite impressed with the conclusion you arranged. One of our senior executives hoped out loud that we field agents would exhibit a similar creative penetration. Which brings me to my point.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice again. “Turnabout currently has an opening for a field supervisor in the New York region. Might I encourage you to apply for the post?”