Constable Jim Johnstone put down his book and sighed inwardly. He was bored: bored with the rain drumming on the tin roof of the tiny two-man watch hut, bored with the task he’d been allotted – sitting night guard on one of the more remote Royal Canadian Mounted Police supply warehouses, which had been broken into in recent months – and, most of all, bored with having to play nursemaid to Hank.
Sergeant Hank Stevens, a cocksure young army officer all the way from Texas, was in Canada on some cross-border exchange initiative, spending a few weeks with the Mounties, doing what they did – even the humdrum duties, like this one. These exchange schemes were touted as an opportunity to learn but the loud and confident Hank had, from the outset, seemed keener on educating the “dumb Canucks” on just what an unexciting backwater their country was and how everything was bigger and better in Texas. So far this evening, he’d boasted about his army survival training (“I’m prepared for every eventuality”), the quickness of his reflexes (“I ain’t never taken by surprise”), the southern climate and now, as Jim pulled on his rubberised RCMP mackintosh to check on the warehouse, the superiority of US military waterproofs.
“See, that crummy mac of yours ain’t gonna do jackshit to keep you dry in a real downpour. Rain’s gonna run right down your neck and up your sleeves, see if it don’t. And no hood or rainhat! What you need is an outfit like mine.”
He demonstrated his outfit, brandishing the oilskin like a bullfighter before shrugging it over his army uniform. The Texan climate (naturally) being better than Canada’s, Hank had had to make special preparations for his trip to the rainy north, searching out the longest, heaviest waterproof cape he could find in military issue. He showed Jim how, when fastened securely at the neck with a high, snug collar (“no rain gettin’ in there!”) it fell almost to his ankles in a glistening column of black oilskin. He’d even managed to acquire a matching souwester (Jim suspected he’d snaffled it from naval issue somewhere) in place of his usual peaked cap and extolled the virtues of proper weather-preparedness, pointing out that when fully togged up in his ensemble, he was 100% rainproofed from head to toe.
“Sure,” agreed Jim, with impeccable Canadian politeness, “I’m off to do the midnight check. Back in 15.”
“You’ll come back one sodden Mountie,” laughed the sergeant, “see if I’m wrong!”
Sodden or not, Jim wasn’t back in the usual 15 minutes. Or 15 minutes after that. Already buttoned into his lauded raincape and grumbling about the unreliability of “Canuck hicks”, Hank crammed the souwester on his head and headed out into the night.
The rain was heavier now and, counting the seconds between flash and thunder, Hank reckoned a thunderstorm was getting closer. Hunched in his oilskins, he hurried up the path to the isolated outbuilding, a long, low shape in the dark.
By the time he got close enough to see that the warehouse’s main door was ajar, water ran in rivulets from his cape and dripped from the brim of his souwester. Hank remained warm and dry, though, and allowed himself a moment of satisfaction in his top-grade American waterproofing before approaching.
“Jim?” he called softly, as he entered the building’s darkened interior. Inside, Hank could dimly make out racks of shelving, holding non-weaponry supplies, protective clothing, first aid supplies, a chair, and… his foot snagged on something. Looking down, he saw that he was standing in a circle of rope
Then a sudden flurry of black across his vision, wetness against his face and the loud flapping of oilskin. Something – someone – had managed to whip his cape up, trapping the sergeant’s head and upper body completely. Instinctively, he groped upwards with both hands to free himself…
… and tumbled forward, legs yanked abruptly from under him. Hank was momentarily winded by his fall and, by the time he had recovered his breath to resist, he felt rather than heard the ominous click-click of handcuffs closing over both wrists.
“Hey, what the…!” Hands closing into fists, he fought the cuffs but immediately felt the dead weight of a hefty body dropping to kneel on his buttocks and lower back and a sudden twisting and tightening of the folds of oilskin around his head and neck, cutting off his air supply. Realising he was powerless, he calmed his struggles and was rewarded by a slight loosening of the cape. He could breathe again.
“Wh-what…?” he gasped as he felt rope coil around his elbows, drawing them together in the middle of his back with a knot pulled tight, keeping them there. He tried to part them but the binding held fast. Then, to his surprise, Hank felt one handcuff being unlocked then the other. He struggled anew but, pressed into the floor with elbows already pinioned and his air supply controlled, the battle was already as good as lost. Suffocating oilskin tightened again around his face until Hank, with great effort, lay still and, grumbling, allowed his assailant to lash his wrists together. This was done with great efficiency, rope looped and knotted first several times around then cinched between, even threaded under his wide Sam Browne style duty belt (Hank noted grimly that this would tether his hands firmly to his waist) before the rope ends were pulled upwards and tied off to the pinion binding his elbows. With displeasure, he noted that this placed knots well out of finger-reach.
At least the cuffs were off, thought Hank, and where instead there was rope there was hope! Metal was unforgiving but one could break or squirm free from rope… or perhaps he could reason with or intimidate his assailant? Feeling the wet oilskin slacken from around his head, he cleared his throat and assumed his most confident air of authority.
“Sir, I represent the US army. You are committing a serious felony and I insist you free… ummfff!” Smothering oilskin finally gone, Hank had had only a second or two of cool, rain-smelling air on his face before some sort of adhesive tape or plaster was slapped over both eyes, blinding him again. Moments later, his mouth was unceremoniously stuffed with a large wad of some sort of fabric – a familiar, slightly antiseptic smell – and before he could spit this out, a longer strip of tape secured it in place.
A hand now hauled Hank to his feet and he briefly considered making a run for it. His feet were still free (or were they? he felt something dragging around his ankles and remembered the rope or lariat loop he’d stood in only minutes ago. Even if he didn’t trip over that again, could he remember which direction to run in?) Blindfolded and without the use of his arms, could he even find the door, much less outrun his assailant?
Reason prevailed – he would, he decided, get his chance soon – and the sergeant stood as steady as he could, exhaling raggedly into his gag, while his assailant tugged and smoothed Hank’s cape downwards. How bizarre, thought Hank, suddenly aware that his souwester (which he hadn’t bothered to fasten) had been lost in the scuffle. Least of my worries, he reflected, as he was turned, roughly, and pushed backwards into a waiting chair. Something sturdy and straight-backed, he could tell.
A loop of what felt like rope settled instantly around Hank’s chest, dragging him backwards. His instinct was to fight against this but, gagged and sightless, with feet hobbled and wrists knotted to his belt, there was little he could do but mutter darkly (and unintelligibly) as coil after coil of rope secured his broad chest to the chair. With sinking heart, Hank could feel the rope being threaded through slats in the back of the chair; this meant he couldn’t simply shrug off the binding coils. Crosswise ropes then made an X across his torso, pulling his shoulders back like twin seat belts, and rope was tugged around his waist, melding him yet more immovably to the chair he sat in. As his bound wrists pressed against the small of his back, the sergeant was glad that at least he was no longer wearing hard steel handcuffs. The rope – evidently a long one – was looped around him a couple more times for good measure then pulled tight and knotted with emphatic finality in the middle of his chest. Virtually impossible to reach with hands tied behind, thought Hank.
As his seemingly tireless assailant went to work on Hank’s legs and feet, the sergeant tried to shift in the chair to test his bonds. From the waist up, his body felt like a single unit, even flexing his fingers proving near-impossible sandwiched as they were between back and chair and walled in by the taut waterproof fabric of his cape. Could he shift the cape upwards to give his fingers more room to manoeuvre? He tried but the tough fabric was anchored downwards by his body weight – he was sitting on it – and wouldn’t budge. Could he tear or poke through the heavy fabric? He tried, not a chance. Hank snorted angrily, suddenly frustrated that the garment of which he had been so proud had become part of his imprisonment.
Within what seemed seconds, Hank’s oilskinned knees were roped together and lashed to the front edge of the chair’s seat. Before he could even think of kicking out, the lariat which had felled him was being wound round and round the ankles and toes of his military boots, cinched and knotted tight. Suddenly, his assailant was behind him again and Hank’s booted feet were tugged sharply backwards, under the chair. Taken by surprise, he was slow to resist and the rope was already being tied off somewhere high up on the chair back, Hank’s feet dragged backward and upward so that the toes of his boots no longer even brushed the ground. This sudden disconnection with Terra Firma was unexpectedly disconcerting and Hank started to grunt and wrestle more seriously with his confinement.
Apparently happy that the sergeant was going nowhere, his assailant ignored Hank’s struggles against the roping and turned his attention elsewhere, unbuttoning the raincape’s high collar and folding the oilskin down around his neck. Thinking vision or voice might be returned to him to negotiate, the bound man cooperated… until it became clear that the opposite was happening: his gag and blindfold were being reinforced. Hank gurgled with outrage and shook his head from side to side, trying to evade the inevitable. Strong hands clamped him in place while further tape was added, a good half dozen turns around his mouth, coating his lower face from just under his nose to the point of his chin and further silencing his complaints. More rounds of tape were applied at eye level, further securing his sticking plaster blindfold and covering his ears. Finally, tape was wound over the crown of his head and under his chin, forcing Hank’s jaw even more tightly closed.
Hank’s mind was reeling. Clearly his assailant was a past master at immobilising and gagging a captive but why would a simple thief or burglar go to so much trouble? Deft fingers took a moment to press the tape down even more securely then a couple of additional strips were added down the sides of his nose, linking blindfold to gag into a single unit, almost a full mask of tape. Surely this was needless overkill!
Now, the high collar of his cape was being straightened, pulled up and refastened. It came almost to the sergeant’s nose, covering the mouth-gag and adding to his sense of restriction. To think less than an hour earlier, Hank had boasted about how snugly this collar kept rain out! Now, over bulky layers of tape, it was yet snugger, limiting neck movement and sealing his mouth and lower face even more thoroughly behind a thick wall of oilskin. Hank bristled with frustration.
Everything had happened so quickly – but now, it seemed, his assailant had paused. Had he gone? Pausing in his mumbled protestations, Hank strained to hear through the tape covering his ears. He sensed his captor was still in the room. Throughout the swift and efficient takedown, the man who had subdued, bound, gagged and blindfolded him with almost shocking ease hadn’t spoken a word but Hank now thought he heard a chuckle.
He didn’t have long to ponder this. Something enveloping yet somehow also close-fitting was thrust upon Hank’s head and tugged downwards. The sergeant began to panic, thinking he was being suffocated again, but his face (those parts still free of tape, at least) remained clear and his air supply unchanged. A tightness over his crown and pressure under his chin… he realised his naval-style souwester had been retrieved and his assailant was fastening it in place. But why?!
The long strings of his heavy oilskin rainhat were being crossed, pulled tight and tied firmly under Hank’s chin (pressing the collar of his cape ever tighter over his mouth) then taken behind and tied a second time at the back of his neck, over the souwester’s extended rear brim. Oilskin flaps covered his ears and, combined with layers of tape and the newly restrictive cape collar, the whole thing seemed suddenly stifling and claustrophobic rather than protective. Hank jerked and shook his head in irritation but the souwester was now as well secured as the rest of his bindings and couldn’t be shaken off.
Stillness. Was he alone? Hank’s senses did their best but, under tape and the thick oilskin ear-flaps of the accursed souwester, all he could hear was his own gradually steadying breathing – in, out, in out – and the creak of oilskin as his chest rose and fell. Eyes glued shut by at least three layers of tape (well pressed down), he was in utter blackness, not a chink of light entering his blindfold. Against the slightly musty odour of the supply hut, he was increasingly aware of the more pungent smell of oilskin heating up with his struggles – and the faintly antiseptic stuff stuffing his mouth and covering his face. Experimentally, Hank pushed his tongue as hard as he could against the mouth-wadding. It was not to be dislodged.
He was in what his old corporal would’ve called “a tight corner”. Sensing he might finally have been left to his own devices, Hank assessed his chances of escape, exploring his predicament first tentatively then with more determination. Clearly, the priority was to free his wrists but they remained bound, held fast to his thick leather belt, with the knots positioned high up at elbow level. If able to contort himself, it might theoretically have been possible for him to strain upwards towards them with all his might but Hank’s back and elbows were pressed rigidly against the chair back, trapping the knots. He needed to shuffle forwards in the chair but ropes pinned him solidly at waist, chest and shoulders – and those ropes were secured outside the cape which enveloped him. Even his fingers were imprisoned and useless behind the damned waterproof, tightly hemmed in by oilskin too tough to tear. His booted, tethered feet flexed and strained but couldn’t touch the ground.
Hank stewed. He realised he had been made well and truly helpless. It dawned on the cocky sergeant that he might have no option but to sit where he had been put, wait long hours for rescue, with the humiliation of being found trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey… or, more apposite still, a Christmas present, neatly wrapped up in his shiny raincape and souwester, in the Mounties’ supply hut. How the Canucks would smirk at the US army sergeant so easily and thoroughly bested. Giving vent to his outrage, Hank let forth a stream of well muffled invective. He had to free himself! With all his strength, he threw himself into another round of wrenching at his bonds.
Constable Jim Johnstone watched quietly as his exasperated captive jerked and writhed, a gleaming, tightly-packaged bundle of oilskin from hat to hem. Only a flash of pristine white punctuated the shiny black, between souwester brim and cape collar, the surgical tape and sticking plaster (filched from a first aid kit) with which Jim had rendered his prisoner sightless and voiceless.
The oilskin-cocooned figure began another round of vigorous struggle and Jim felt a momentary pang of sympathy for the swathed and trussed man, doubtless starting to sweat now underneath all that heavy impermeable fabric. But, he reminded himself, the sergeant had made a great show of his “superior American waterproofs”; surely he deserved to spend a night in them?
Though spirited, his captive’s attempts at escape proved futile, as Jim knew they would be. He smiled as he lifted his own raincoat – his sturdy old Canadian police-issue mac – from the hook behind the door, where he had hung it while he lay in wait. Buttoning it up, he noticed there were still traces of moisure on its smooth surface: it had taken him less time to fully immobilise his prisoner than for raindrops to dry on rubber.
Slipping out of the hut, he closed and locked the door softly behind him. The worst of the storm seemed to have passed. Turning his collar up, he headed back to his book and a night of blessed peace and quiet. The Mountie always gets his man – and Jim had got Sergeant Hank Stevens right where he wanted him.
Metal would like to thank Straitjacketed for sending this story to be added to the Prison Library