"Hello, Miranda, this is Amy."
"I'm not talking to you---"
"Please don't hang up," Amy pleaded.
Miranda almost hissed out the question. "What do you want?"
"I called to apologize for what I said," Amy began, trying to sound appropriately contrite.
"Fine, I accept your apology." Miranda was still suspicious. "Is that all you called about? I'm not giving you any money."
"I'm not asking for any. I called to invite you to a party. I got a new guy. He wants to meet you."
"Oh?" This was sisterly enough to melt some of Miranda's frostiness. "What's his name?"
"His name is Hal. I met him at church."
"You? Going to church?" The Amy that Miranda had known as a teen had spent a lot of time on her back screaming 'Oh God,' but it wasn't the same thing.
"I've reformed, Miranda. Is that so hard to believe?"
"I guess not." Even Madonna got religion once in a while.
"So are you going to come to the party? Hal's friends will be there, and a lot of them are hot guys. You're still single, right?"
Miranda snorted. Their tyrannical Grandma hadn't even allowed Miranda to go shopping in town, and visitors, even if Grandma had any friends, would have been discouraged. Living with her made a social life impossible. She had really earned that money. "When is the party? I'm leaving on a cruise next week and I've still got a million things to do."
"It's on Friday, day after tomorrow, about nine. Is that OK?"
"Yeah, I guess I can show up for a little while."
"I'm so glad. The party is at Hal's place." She gave the address and directions to the house. "Goodbye, Miranda. See you on Friday." Amy hung up and turned to Hal. "It worked. She'll be there."
It was a pleasant May evening as Miranda left the farm for Amy's party. As she drove along country roads she felt an overwhelming sense of relief that she was finally free of the tyrannical old woman who had ruled her life for the past year. Grandma had been a healthy seventy five when she died; healthy enough to have washed her own curtains, cleaned her own toilets, pulled her own weeds, and scrubbed her own floors, if she hadn't had a slave-granddaughter to do it for her. Miranda would have left the farm before the end of the first week if Grandma hadn't shown her the will and told her how much money there was.
After that Miranda's every complaint, every rebellion, every disobedience was met with a comment that the will could easily be changed. And as the months went by she obeyed her grandmother until her compliance became habitual. Miranda cringed with embarrassment whenever she recalled how servile she had eventually become. She had even allowed Grandma to spank her with a hairbrush, as though she were a naughty child. 'I earned that money', Miranda thought, not for the first time.
She drove through Bixby, the nearest small town, six miles from the farm. This was where Grandma was buried, in the cemetery of the church she had attended all her life. Miranda reflected bitterly that the only time she had been here was for the funeral. "That old bitch really thought she owned me," she muttered. "I wonder what she'd have done if I got sick? Probably doctor me herself." She thought of all the money and smiled, "But it was worth it."
Miranda arrived in Lincoln less than an hour later. She found Hal's house and parked her grandmother's old Buick in front of it. She was glad she didn't have to walk far in this crummy neighborhood. She cautiously climbed the rotting wooden steps and knocked on the peeling door. It was obvious that Hal didn't put home maintenance at the top of his list of things to do.
Amy answered the door. "Miranda! I'm so glad you made it. Come in." She hugged Miranda and closed the door. "Hal's in the rec room."
Miranda followed Amy into the smelly kitchen. Amy opened a door and revealed a steep flight of wooden steps leading down into a dark basement. The thumping beat of rock music, heavy on the bass, reverberated up the stairs.
Amy said, "The party's down there. Hal has really fixed up the basement. You go ahead, I have to do something in the kitchen."
Miranda carefully walked down the dirty stairs. If Hal had fixed up the basement he had neglected this part. The dim light from the kitchen was the only illumination, and she couldn't see anything ahead of her. She reached the bottom of the stairs and took a few tentative steps on the gritty concrete floor.
It got even darker as Amy started down the stairs and blocked the light from the kitchen. Miranda turned toward her. "Amy, what in the hell is going on? Why is it so dark down here?... Ooofff."
Miranda grunted with surprise as she was grabbed from behind. She struggled against a hug that pinned her arms to her sides. Then she was lifted from her feet, twisted sideways, and slammed hard onto a mattress on the floor. She tried to get up, but a heavy body pinned her down. She squirmed ineffectually as she felt Amy wrap something around her neck. There was a loud click.
"Got her!" Amy crowed. "You can get up, Hal." Amy moved to the wall and plugged in a florescent shop light dangling from the floor joists. She turned off a boom-box sitting on the floor and the music stopped.
Miranda blinked in the sudden brightness. She sat up and discovered a heavy chain was padlocked around her neck. The other end was locked around a metal stanchion in the center of the bare, unfinished basement. "What is this, Amy? Have you gone crazy?"
"Not crazy, but I am mad about the money. Oh, this is Hal. You'll get to know him real well."
Miranda stood and looked with disfavor at the third person in the room. Hal was about six feet tall, and his muscular body was artfully displayed by tight black jeans and a black tee shirt. His long, dirty blond hair was slicked back in a style she hadn't seen since the last time she watched a 'Happy Days' rerun. She dismissed Hal with a glance and turned to Amy. "What do you think you're doing? This is kidnapping! You can go to prison! Let me go at once!"
Amy laughed, "Your protests aren't very original, Miranda. And you should be able to guess what I'm doing. I can't change Grandma's will, so instead I decided to become the heiress."
"You are crazy, bitch! You can't possibly get away with it!"
Amy picked up Miranda's purse and extracted her driver's license from the wallet. "Let's see, Miranda Johnson. Height, five feet four inches. That's my height. Color of hair, brown. So's mine. Color of eyes, gray. Me too. Weight, 110 pounds? Maybe when you were in high school. Date of birth, 1981. I was born in 1980, but that's close enough. According to this, we're exactly alike."
"Not to people who know us!"
"Who would they be? Our only living relative is Uncle Bob, and he hasn't left South America in the past fifteen years. Old friends of the family? One thing about being Air Force brats, you move around a lot, so there aren't any long-time friends or neighbors."
"But our school friends! They'd know."
"Like who?" Amy affected a falsetto. "Oh, you remember me. I'm Miranda Johnson, yes I know, I look prettier now. I finally got that plastic surgery I always wanted. Who? Amy? No, I haven't seen her in years. Just as well, I got so uppity when she got held back a year. Amy always thought she was smarter than me." Look who's smart now, Amy's smug expression implied.
"Remember at our last high school, Miranda? People were always asking us if we were twins. And we ran with the same crowd, so I know you don't have any secret friend who would recognize you in an instant."
"What about Hal? Does he realize the risk he's taking? He could go to prison for life for helping you. What does he get out of all this?"
"Money, of course. As soon as I get control of the estate he'll get a share. But more important for him, he gets you. See, Hal has this little kink. He likes to tie up girls. But he has trouble finding girls he can tie up, and now that problem is solved. You'll be his sex toy. Hey, that's a good name for you. I'm Miranda now, and you can't be Amy, so Toy it is."
Miranda pulled at the chain around her neck. She became very frightened as she realized how vulnerable she was. She pleaded, "Don't do this to me, Amy, we are sisters. Please let me go. I'll give you some of the money."
"The money's no longer yours to give, bitch. And if we weren't sisters you'd be dead by now." Amy looked at her watch. "I've got to get out to the farm, there's a lot to do. Take off your clothes."
"What? I will not!"
"Persuade Toy that she should do as I ask, Hal."
Amy sighed. "Hit her. Not too hard."
"Oh." Hal feinted with his left to Miranda's face, then hit her in the stomach with his right. She fell onto the mattress, clutching herself and struggling to breathe.
Amy waited until Miranda had recovered enough to listen. "See, Toy? We can do anything to you we want. Now take your clothes off!"
Miranda staggered to her feet. "Amy, please..."
Amy said, "Hal!" and he raised his fist.
"No! Don't!" Miranda was wearing a sleeveless blue silk blouse and a black leather miniskirt. She kicked off her heels, then unzipped her skirt and slid it off. She pulled the blouse off over her head, not waiting to unbutton it.
Amy took the discarded garments and started for the stairs. "This is what I need, Hal. She's all yours now."
Amy went into the bedroom and changed into the blue blouse and leather skirt. By the time she returned to the basement Hal had stripped Miranda and was tying her up. The floor was littered with scattered fragments of her underwear. Miranda herself was naked and face down on the mattress, with her wrists and elbows tied together behind her back with white cotton rope. Hal was connecting her bound ankles to her wrists.
He tied the last knot. "She didn't know what a hogtie was. Can you believe it, Amy?"
"I'm sure Toy will learn many exciting new things from you, Hal." Amy grabbed his shoulders. "Now remember. For a while everything has to go on just as it was. Don't quit your job or anything like that. Understand?"
"Yeah, but why do I have to work if we're rich? I hate being a roofer."
Amy explained once again. "Because I don't have the money yet. You'll get your money, but it'll take a while." She sighed. "Just do as I tell you and you'll be OK. Don't try to call me. If I want to talk to you I'll leave a message at the roofing company."
"OK, Amy." Hal felt better when there was somebody to tell him what to do.
Amy walked over to the mattress and smirked at her sister's contorted body. "Don't forget to give Toy food and water every now and then. And you can't keep her tied up like that all the time. You have to let her blood circulate occasionally. You don't want to break your new Toy."
"Yeah, I got some handcuffs. I'll use them on her while I'm at work."
"Fine, she'll appreciate that. Have fun, guys. See you later."
Amy walked out of the house and stood for a moment under the street light. "Look everybody", she muttered, "I'm Miranda. I'm leaving now, I'm not chained in the basement. Look at me, as if anybody ever noticed anything in this neighborhood." She found the car keys in Miranda's purse and got into Grandma's '91 Buick. She noticed that the odometer indicated only 36,000 miles. Grandma didn't like to go far from home.
When Amy got to the farm her first priority was to find out about the cruise Miranda had mentioned. She searched until she found a large envelope in Miranda's dresser. It contained her passport and all of the cruise details. When she had finished looking through it Amy was impressed, especially by the cost. This wasn't a week in the Bahamas; the cruise started in Greece after a charter flight from Omaha to Athens. The large modern ship would spend the first month in the Mediterranean, and then as the weather got warmer it would go through the Strait of Gibraltar and up the coasts of Spain and France. Before the hot weather arrived it would be in the Baltic. Finally, in July she would fly back to Omaha from Stockholm. And this wasn't a geriatric special, either. It was billed as a 'singles cruise'. Miranda obviously planned to make up for lost time.
Amy found letters to Miranda from Grandma's lawyer and accountant. In her replies Miranda had mentioned that she would be away on the cruise and had set up appointments with them for after her return. The letters described the estate. In addition to over two million dollars in stocks and bonds there were thousands of acres of prime Nebraska farmland. Except for a few acres right around Grandma's house it was all leased out, and last year the income was over $200,000. Amy whistled softly when she read that. No wonder Miranda had been willing to put up with Grandma for so long.
Amy decided to go on the cruise. It would be suspicious if she cancelled, when Miranda had made it clear she planned to go. Besides, the ticket was non-refundable, and Amy couldn't force herself to lose that much money. 'And I have some lost time to make up too,' she thought. She had to seduce Hal to get him to go along with her plan, and he was a terrible lover, with no clue about how to satisfy a woman. He also wanted to tie her up all the time, and she didn't trust him to release her afterward.
Early the next morning Amy started on a frenzy of housecleaning. She was determined to wipe out every trace of Miranda, just in case there was ever any question of who had lived here with Grandma. After intense scrubbing and vacuuming she went over the house again, wiping off anything that Miranda might conceivably have touched, including all of the bottles and cans in the pantry, the medicines in Grandma's bathroom, and the tools in the garage. Once something was wiped clean she handled it herself. The only fingerprints that anyone found here would belong to her. The only place she didn't bother with was the basement, which was packed with junk that looked like it had been there since before her grandfather died, over twenty years ago.
Several exhausting days later Amy was satisfied that only her spoor could be detected. She had gone as far as leaving loose hair in multiple locations. "I wonder if I should pee on the fence posts?" she muttered, "Naw, that would be overkill."
The last step was to pack for the trip. She opened Miranda's closet --her closet now-- and began to sort through the garments. Her sister had some nice stuff, all new and expensive. Miranda hadn't bought these clothes at Sears. Amy took out a Yves St. Laurent sweater and tried it on. It fitted perfectly. She carefully packed everything she needed in the new Gucci luggage. Early the next morning a limo arrived to take her to the airport. All part of a deluxe cruise.
Amy presented her passport to the immigration agent in a haze of jet lag. It had been a long flight back to Omaha. She didn't notice anything unusual until two other agents appeared next to her.
"There are a few questions, Ms. Johnson. Please go with these officers."
Amy was only slightly alarmed. She hadn't even thought about smuggling anything into the country. Besides, she was arriving from Sweden, not Morocco. She accompanied the agents down a hallway to an anonymous door and entered a small room. The immigration agents stayed outside.
A man and a woman were standing inside. Both were in their forties, and both were wearing cheap gray gabardine suits.
The woman asked, "Are you Miranda Johnson?"
"Yes. What's this all about?"
The woman flashed a badge. "I'm Sergeant Shellenberger, Airport Police. This is Deputy Sheriff Rodgers, from Kiowa County."
Amy started to worry. Grandma's farm was in Kiowa County.
The deputy took a paper out of his coat pocket. "Miranda Louise Johnson, this is a warrant for your arrest for the first degree murder of Ethel Johnson. You have the right to remain silent..."
Amy's mind shut down from shock. She didn't hear the rest of the warning, and she hardly realized it when Deputy Rodgers handcuffed her and put her in the back of a patrol car for the drive to Kiowa City.
Amy had recovered some by the time a jailor took her into an interrogation room. She had been booked into the county jail and was wearing an orange jumpsuit. Her hair was still wet from the shower she had been forced to take.
Deputy Rodgers and another officer were waiting in the room. Rodgers said, "Well, Miranda, I suppose you're surprised we found out you murdered your grandmother."
"I'm not saying anything until I've seen a lawyer."
"Of course, that's your right. We don't need anything from you anyway. We got you cold. Your grandmother's body was exhumed and the medical examiner found a massive overdose of her heart medication in it. Your fingerprints were all over the bottle."
"That doesn't mean I gave it to her."
"It would be hard for her to take that many pills by mistake. And everyone we asked at her church says she would never commit suicide. But the clincher was that cruise you took. Nobody could believe a tightwad like old Ethel would shell out that much money. We took a close look at the check. It was written a week before Ethel died and her name was signed to it, but it wasn't her handwriting. But no problem for you; if she was dead when the bank statement arrived you'd be the only one to see it."
Rodgers shook his head. "It was really greed that did you in, Miranda. If you had just given a share of the estate to your Uncle Bob he would have been content to stay in Chile. But when he was cut out of the will he was so pissed he came back here and raised a fuss, insisting that his mother's body be exhumed. He got Ethel's church involved. We started an investigation, mainly to shut him up. We were surprised when the medical examiner said Ethel was poisoned."
Amy was crying now. The jailor took her back to her cell.
Amy consulted with a lawyer the next day. He didn't have good news. "I reviewed all the evidence, Ms. Johnson. My advice is for you to plead guilty. If you do I can probably work a deal with the prosecutor so you don't get the death penalty. What you did could be considered an aggravating circumstance under state law."
Amy knew she was down to her last option. "I got to talk to Deputy Rogers."
They met a short time later in the same interrogation room. "You wanted to see me, Miranda?"
"Yeah. But I'm not Miranda. I'm her sister, Amy."
"Oh, really? How did you happen to exchange identities? And if you're not Miranda, where is she?"
"After Miranda inherited all that money I kidnapped her so I could take her place. She's with my ex-boyfriend, chained up in the basement of a house in Lincoln." Amy described the house and gave the address.
"Interesting, if true. We'll check it out."
They met again a few hours later. "Nice try, Miranda."
"I'm Amy! Wasn't Miranda in the house? She must have been!"
"There wasn't any house. A couple of months ago it burned down. It was obviously arson. The Lincoln police thought there might have been a drug lab there, so they really looked it over. They didn't find any bodies. Or any chain, either. The landlord said he rented it to a John Smith, for cash, and he 'couldn't remember' what 'Smith' looked like. You're out of luck, Miranda."
Miranda sat on the floor of a decrepit trailer permanently parked fifteen miles southeast of Pueblo, Colorado. She couldn't stand up; before he went to work Hal always shortened the chain that was locked to her neck and bolted to the frame of the trailer. He was afraid someone might see her through the windows, but she didn't know why he bothered. The trailer was two miles from the nearest paved road, and nobody ever came by. But she had learned not to argue.
She thought back to a day about a week after she was first imprisoned. She was sitting on the mattress with her arms wrapped around the stanchion, her cuffed hands resting on her lap. As close as she could tell it was mid-afternoon when Hal ran down the stairs in a panic. He was still wearing his work clothes and smelled of hot tar. He cuffed her hands behind her back and unlocked the chain from the stanchion.
He jerked her to her feet. "Come on, we've got to get out of here!"
"I owe a lot of money to some drug dealers and they came by the job looking for me. Lucky I was taking a piss and saw them first. But they'll be here soon." He used the chain as a leash to drag Miranda up the stairs. As soon as they were in the kitchen he tied her into a ball with cotton rope, gagged her, and stuffed her into a large cardboard box. He taped the box shut and carried it outside and dumped it into the bed of his old Ford pickup.
For Miranda this was the start of an ordeal that lasted for hours. She was unconscious when Hal finally carried her into a sleazy motel room on the outskirts of Sterling, Colorado. This was just their first stop. In the next few weeks they jumped around Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming before ending up near Pueblo.
She came back to the present when Hal entered the trailer, letting in a blast of cold air. He stamped the snow off his boots. "Hi, Toy. Miss me?" He unlocked the padlock that kept Miranda fastened close to the floor and removed her handcuffs. She made a dash for the toilet, the long chain jingling behind her.
Hal was waiting for Miranda in the kitchen. He gave her a folded newspaper and pointed to an article. "What does this mean?"
She read the article. Datelined Kiowa City, it said that Miranda Louise Johnson, 22, had been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the murder of her grandmother Ethel Johnson, 75. "It means Amy will spend the rest of her life in prison."
"If she's in prison how will she give me my share of the money?"
"Amy won't get any money. You can't inherit from somebody you've murdered. I suppose Uncle Bob will get it."
"Damn! I could use some cash. But at least I still got you, Toy." Hal showed her a magazine. The cover pictured a nude oriental woman, tied with many strands of thin rope. She was suspended from a beam, the ropes cutting into her body.
Hal looked at the ceiling. "I want us to try that. But I don't think the roof is strong enough to hold your weight. I'll have to fix up something."
Miranda turned away so Hal couldn't see her tears; tears for her sister, tears for herself. She wondered if Amy would exchange places with her now.
Copyright© 2004 by Zack. All rights reserved.